Matt Hancock today warned the Indian variant is responsible for up to three quarters of all new Covid cases in the UK.
Confirmed cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19 have doubled in a week to reach almost 7,000, although hospital admissions remain flat.
The health secretary told a Downing Street press briefing on Thursday: “The latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three-quarters of all new cases are now of this variant.
“As we set out our road map we always expected cases to rise, we must remain vigilant.
“The aim, of course, is to break the link to hospitalisations and deaths so that cases alone no longer require stringent restrictions on people’s lives.”
New data from Public Health England (PHE) shows 6,959 cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK.
The figures are up to May 26, and represent a rise of 3,535 on the previous week.
In England, 6,180 cases have been confirmed, along with 702 in Scotland, 58 in Wales and 19 in Northern Ireland.
Mr Hancock said the increase in cases of the Indian variant remained focused in “hotspots” where surge testing and vaccinations were taking place.
He said: “The increase in cases remains focused in hotspots and we are doing all we can to tackle this variant wherever it flares up.
“Over the past six months we now have built a huge testing capacity at our disposal and we are using this to surge testing into the eight hotspot areas and other places where the cases are lower but rising.
“In the hotspot areas we are surging vaccines, too, for those who are eligible, in Bolton for instance we have done 17,147 vaccinations in the last week.”
The local areas most affected by the Indian variant of coronavirus continue to be Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen.
Seven further areas in England have more than 100 confirmed cases of the variant: Leicester, Sefton, Nottingham, Wigan, Central Bedfordshire, Manchester and Hillingdon.
Earlier, Mr Hancock said the link between Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths is being "severed" but it is too early to say whether the June 21 lifting of restrictions will go ahead.
In England on May 24, there were 98 hospital admissions for Covid-19, slightly above the seven-day average (88) but down 98 per cent from the second-wave peak.
Mr Hancock repeatedly dodged questions around Dominic Cummings’ blistering evidence to MPs on Wednesday, as he again defended himself against accusations.
He was asked if Boris Johnson still had confidence in him as Health Secretary.
But Mr Hancock said he and the Prime Minister were focused on getting the country out of the Covid crisis.
“I mean, you know, this isn’t over yet. And in a way the rise in case rates in the last couple of days demonstrate that.
“We’ve all got to be vigilant, and we’ve still, all of us, got to take personal responsibility for what we can do to help keep this under control as we get the vaccine rolled out.
“It is a race between the two and that’s what we’re focused on.”