The UK has recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases since late March, according to official figures.
A further 6,238 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Friday, which is the highest single-day figure since March 25, Government figures show.
Although rising case numbers could be cause for concern, it comes as analysis by the PA news agency shows the majority of major hospital trusts in England are continuing to average no Covid-19 admissions.
However, a handful of trusts in virus hotspots are showing a small rise in numbers, as experts warn that the variant first identified in India, also known as the Delta variant, may lead to an increased risk of hospital admission.
Meanwhile, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest the number of people who had the virus in England has increased by around three quarters in a week.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 85,600 people in England had the virus in the week to May 29 – equating to around one in 640 people in private households.
This is the highest level since the week to April 16 and is up from 48,500 people – one in 1,120 people in private households – in the week ending May 22.
Figures are still lower than they were earlier this year, with the ONS estimating that 1,122,000 people had Covid-19 in the week to January 2.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government “always expected cases to rise” as lockdown was eased, but the data being watched “very carefully” is the number of people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms.
The Cabinet minister told reporters: “We publish all the information we have about the new variants, including the Delta variant, and we take this approach of full transparency.
“The data on the impact on hospitalisations are very early data, so we can’t yet conclude with any confidence that there’s an impact on your risk of hospitalisation.
“But of course, we publish the early data and we watch it very carefully.
“Now, we always expected cases to rise as the country was opened up, the critical thing is the impact on the number of people who end up in hospital for any given number of cases.
“That link has been broken by the vaccine, but it hasn’t been completely severed yet.
“That’s one of the things that we’re watching very carefully, and it’s too early to say what the decision will be ahead of June 21, but we’ll make sure people know in good time.”
Elsewhere on Friday, it was announced surge testing is being rolled out in parts of Kent and West Yorkshire after cases of the Delta variant were detected.
Additional testing with genomic sequencing is being delivered in the CT1 and CT2 postcodes in Canterbury and the ME14 postcode in Maidstone, both Kent, while it is also being deployed in targeted areas in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
Everyone who lives or works in these areas is strongly encouraged to take a test, including children aged 12 and over in Canterbury and Maidstone and those aged 11 and over in Bradford.
Ministers are currently weighing up whether – and to what extent – England’s coronavirus restrictions can be lifted on June 21, with a leading expert saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a “very difficult” call.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was instrumental to the UK locking down in March 2020, said a “cautious” approach is needed as the Government balances the potential risks against a desire for normality.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “We know at the moment that the Delta variant, the Indian variant, is doubling across the country about every nine days, with some variability place to place.
“But we haven’t fully seen the effect of what happened from May 17, step three, the relaxation of restrictions, come through into that data, so we expect that to accelerate even more.”
Elsewhere on Friday, the latest Government figures show that the coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England is between 1 and 1.2 – up from between 1 and 1.1 last week.
R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.
When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially, but when it is below 1, it means the epidemic is shrinking.
The UK’s vaccine rollout continues as Government data up to June 3 shows that of the 66,749,638 jabs given in the UK so far, 39,949,694 were first doses – a rise of 191,266 on the previous day.
Some 26,799,944 were second doses, an increase of 377,641.
It comes as the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen called for the vaccines to be rolled out to teenagers in areas with high transmission as soon as possible.
Use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12-15 was approved for the UK on Friday, having already been given the green light for people aged 16 and over.
Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen – which currently has the highest case rate in England, said the announcement was “great news”.
Writing on Twitter, he said: “We need to mobilise roll out of this to areas of high variant surges and high and enduring transmission ASAP. This will reduce UK’s rising risk from the Delta variant.”