England’s rate of new cases of Covid-19 has climbed to its highest level for more than three months, with around one in 10 local areas now recording rates above 100 cases per 100,000 people, new analysis shows.
The figures come ahead of an announcement later on Monday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a likely delay to the final easing of coronavirus restrictions in England, which had been earmarked for June 21.
A clear rise in case rates and hospital numbers, driven by the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 that originated in India, are likely to have persuaded ministers of the merits of postponing the last stage of the road map out of lockdown.
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A total of 37,729 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in England in the seven days to June 9, according to Public Health England.
This is the equivalent of 67.0 cases per 100,000 people: the highest level since March 2, when the rate stood at 69.6.
It is still well below the peak of the second wave of the virus, when the figure rose as high as 680.6.
But rates are now showing a clear upwards trend, suggesting the third wave of the virus is under way.
Some 35 of the 315 local authority areas in England – 11% – are currently recording rates above the symbolic threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 people, according to analysis by the PA news agency.
This is also the highest number since early March.
The majority of these areas are in north-west England, with the highest rates concentrated in parts of Lancashire and Greater Manchester.
A growing number are located in other parts of the country, however.
Two boroughs of London have rates that are back above 100: Lambeth (114.7, as of June 9) and Wandsworth (108.0).
The cities of Bradford (132.6), Leicester (130.1), Leeds (127.6) and Newcastle upon Tyne (107.3) are all above the threshold, along with the towns of Bedford (163.9) and Luton (120.2).
In West Yorkshire, Kirklees (123.9) and Calderdale (120.1) are also above 100.
Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire continues to record the highest rate in both England and the UK: 619.3 cases per 100,000 people.
The Delta variant of Covid-19 is believed to be responsible for up to 96% of new coronavirus cases, Public Health England said last week, with a 60% increased risk of household transmission compared with the Alpha variant, which originated in Kent last year.
While the number of confirmed Delta cases continues to be concentrated in north-west England, the rise in case rates in other parts of England reflects the speed at which the variant is spreading around the country.
Two regions of England are now seeing a clear rise in the number of hospital patients with Covid-19: north-west England, where the seven-day average is currently 246, the highest since April 24; in London, where the average stands at 253, the highest since May 19.
Other regions have yet to see a similar trend.
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