There are “early signs” of a potential rise in the proportion of people testing positive for coronavirus in England, new figures show.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, published on Friday, show that around one in 1,110 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to May 15 – up from one in 1,340 the previous week.
The coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England has also risen slightly to between 0.9 to 1.1, up from between 0.8 and 1 last week, according to the latest Government figures.
It comes after the latest official figures showed that cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus in the UK have risen by more than 2,000 in the space of a week.
But while the ONS said that there were “early signs of a potential increase”, it stressed that rates were low and it was too soon to say if the rise was the start of a trend.
Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, added: “This week there is a mixed picture of infection levels across the UK.
“Although we have seen an early indication of a potential increase in England, rates remain low and it is too soon to say if this is the start of a trend.”
Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday said the latest weekly data showed there were 3,424 cases of the B1617.2 mutation – an increase of 161% from the 1,313 the previous week.
While most cases of the Indian variant were concentrated in the North West – particularly Bolton – and London, PHE said it was seeing “clusters of cases” across the country.
PHE said it was also investigating another new variant after 49 cases were identified, mostly in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.
So far, there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines less effective.
The ONS also said that there were signs of an increase in the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the South East.
The trend was uncertain for all other regions in the same week, the ONS said.
Yorkshire and the Humber had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to May 15: around one in 520.
Downing Street said the emergence of the new variant of coronavirus in Yorkshire will continue to be monitored.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There have been a number of variants throughout the pandemic and there will continue to be so.
“There are three mutations of the B1617 strain, as I think has been discussed previously, but as we do with all variants where we spot and identify them through our genomic sequencing programme, we will continue to monitor them and we will designate them as variants under investigation, and then variants of concern if we deem them to be of greater risk.
“But again, as you’ve seen throughout the pandemic, that’s what we’ve done and we won’t hesitate to put in measures that we think are necessary to try and tackle the transmission of any variants.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he has not seen any signs that he will have to “deviate” from his plans to scrap all coronavirus restrictions in England by next month, with no need for so-called vaccine passports to be used to gain entry to pubs.
Speaking to broadcasters in Portsmouth on Friday, the Prime Minister said: “We will be letting everybody know exactly what sort of arrangements to expect for June 21.
“I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we’re going to have to deviate from the road map – obviously we must remain cautious but I’m seeing nothing that makes me think we have to deviate.
“But on June 21 and vaccine certification – or Covid status certification I should say – people should bear in mind that I don’t see any prospect of certificates to go into pubs or anything else.”
Pressed on whether the public will continue to be asked to wear masks, Mr Johnson replied: “All the details we’ll try and let people know by the end of the month about exactly where we think we’ll be on June 21, Step 4.”
The ONS data also showed that in Scotland around one in 1,960 people in the community are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to May 15 – down from one in 1,250 the previous week.
It comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Moray area will move down to Level 2 restrictions from midnight on Friday.
But she said Glasgow would have to remain in Level 3, as coronavirus cases there are still rising.