Covid cases in England doubling every 11 days as Delta variant takes hold | Coronavirus | The Guardian
Covid-19 cases are rising exponentially across England driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated age groups, according to scientists.
A study commissioned by the government found that infections increased by 50% between 3 May and 7 June, coinciding with the rise of the Delta coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.
Data from nearly 110,000 swab tests carried out across England between 20 May and 7 June suggests Covid cases are doubling every 11 days, with the highest prevalence in the north-west and one in 670 people infected.
MPs have approved an extension of coronavirus restrictions in England until 19 July, despite a rebellion by Conservative backbenchers.
Boris Johnson was spared defeat in a Commons vote as Labour backed the plans for a four-week delay to the end of lockdown measures, aimed at buying more time for the vaccine programme. MPs voted 461 to 60, a majority of 401, to approve regulations postponing the reopening.
Experts from Imperial College London said their findings showed a “rapid switch” between the Alpha variant and the Delta variant in the last few weeks, with the latter now accounting for up to 90% of all coronavirus cases.
But they stressed that the UK was in a much different position than in autumn last year when exponential growth triggered a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Stephen Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial and one of the study’s authors, said: “Prevalence is increasing exponentially and it is being driven by younger ages. It appears to be doubling every 11 days.
“Clearly that is bad news … but the key thing to point out here is that we are in a very different part of the epidemic in the UK and it is very difficult to predict the duration of the exponential phase.”
The scientists said their findings from the React study suggested that imminent expansion of the vaccine programme to people aged 18 and above “should help substantially to reduce the overall growth of the epidemic”.
Paul Elliott, the director of the React programme and chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial, said: “I think we can take quite a lot of comfort from the fact that when we look in the details, it does appear that there is very, very good protection in the older ages, where there is virtually everyone double vaccinated.
“And in the younger group, under the age of 65, where a much smaller proportion have been vaccinated or double vaccinated, most infections are occurring in the unvaccinated group. And the government has clearly announced that they want to vaccinate all adults in the period between now and 19 July. I think that will make a very big difference and increase the total amount of population immunity.”
The research, which has been published as a pre-print, shows the bulk of infections are among children aged between five and 12, as well as young adults aged between 18 and 24. Infections in these age groups are about five times higher than in over-65s.
The researchers said data showed that the “weakened link” between infection rates and hospital admissions was “well maintained” for over-65s, while “the trends converged below the age of 65 years”.
Riley said: “We have observed this reconvergence in the pattern of hospitalisations and deaths versus infections, especially in an age group under 65. These patterns are consistent with two vaccine doses being highly effective.”
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “These findings highlight the stark context in which we took the difficult decision to delay step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown.”
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