LONDON – The recent surge in coronavirus infections in the UK picked up pace Thursday, with new confirmed cases rising above 10,000 for the first time in nearly four months due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.
Government figures showed an additional 11,007 cases had been reported. That’s the highest daily number since February 19, when 12,027 cases were recorded, and Cements suggest that the country with the highest number of virus-related deaths in Europe is in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic.
The government’s chief medical advisor, Professor Chris Whitty, said the peak of the current surge was “still uncertain” but that it “will definitely lead to more hospitalizations and, unfortunately, no doubt more deaths.”
Daily cases have risen quite sharply in the past few weeks, having previously hovered around the 2,000 mark. The Delta variant, first identified in India and viewed by government scientists as between 40 to 80 percent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain, accounts for about 95 percent of all new cases in the UK.
Most of the newly confirmed cases belong to younger age groups who have not yet received Covid-19 vaccines. The much-acclaimed UK vaccine launch will be rolled out to all adults over the age of 18 from Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed.
The spread of the variant turned government plans on its head to lift any remaining restrictions on social contact in England starting next week. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed the move until July 19, saying it is “time to take it easy” so more people could get vaccinated and prevent thousands more deaths.
Johnson expressed his hope that by July 19, two-thirds of the UK adult population will be offered two vaccinations, including anyone over 50.
Thursday’s government figures showed an additional 19 people died after testing positive for the virus, the highest daily death toll since May 11. That brings the total number of deaths in the UK from the pandemic to 127,945, most in Europe.
Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, not only warned of more deaths in the near future, but said the country should prepare for more waves of the virus.
“In the medium term, I assume that we will get another burst of winter, late autumn / winter wave, because we know that winter and autumn favor respiratory viruses and it would therefore be very surprising if this particular highly transmissible respiratory virus was not also preferred,” he said in a speech to health professionals.
Many blame the Conservative government for the surge in infections, saying it acted too slowly to impose the strictest quarantine requirements on anyone traveling from India, which has suffered a catastrophic resurgence of the virus.
The hope is that the introduction of vaccines will reverse the recent surge and allow the next easing of the lockdown. As of Thursday, around 63 percent of the UK population had received at least one dose of vaccine, while around 46 percent had received two.
An analysis by Public Health England on Monday showed that two doses of the main vaccines the UK uses are highly effective against Delta variant hospitalizations – 96 percent in the case of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and 92 percent for the AstraZeneca vaccine .