Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that around 85,600 people in England were infected with coronavirus in the week to 29 May, which equates to approximately one in 640 people in private households.
This is the highest level recorded since mid-April and is up from 48,500 people, equating to one in 1,120 people in private households, in the week ending 22 May. This represents an increase of 76.5 per cent.
However, the numbers are still significantly lower than they were at the beginning of this year, with the ONS estimating that 1,122,000 people had coronavirus in the week to 2 January.
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The latest figures will likely be used to help inform the Prime Minister’s decision to press ahead with the lifting of all lockdown restrictions in England on 21 June, or if the roadmap may need to be delayed.
Covid hotspots emerging
The north-west of England, the East Midlands and the south-west of England have all seen an increase in the percentage of people who are testing positive for Covid-19.
ONS data also indicates a possible increase in cases in the West Midlands and London, while the trend among other regions is still unclear.
For many parts of England, positivity rates are very low, making it more difficult to identify any trends since they only see small changes in the number of people testing positive week-on-week.
In the week to 29 May, the north-west of England had the highest proportion of people in any region in England likely to rest positive for Covid-19, amounting to one in 280 people.
By comparison, the south-east of England had the lowest estimate at just one in 1,490 people.
The percentage of people testing positive has increased most notably among those aged 35 and over, as well as among pupils in schools years 7 to 11 in England in the week to 29 May.
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said: “Today’s ONS figures confirm what we had suspected would be true, the number of cases of Covid-19 is rising.
“There are two factors at play here, once is the easing of the lockdown measures in May and the second is the Delta variant (which has now become dominant).”
Prof Naismith said the trajectory of the case numbers in the North West are particularly worrying.“It is worth pausing to remember that if it is as transmissible and severe as early data indicate, the delta variant will devastate less developed countries.
“I am filled with dread and sorrow for what lies ahead. Common humanity means it is urgent that we support vaccination across the globe.”
Signs of rising cases in Wales
ONS data also indicates “early signs” of an increase in the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in Wales.
Around one in 1,050 people in the country were estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to 29 May, up from one in 3,850 in the week previous.
Like England, this is the highest level since the week to 16 April.
The trend in Northern Ireland is less certain, with an estimate of around one in 800 people infected with Covid-19 in the week to 29 May, which is broadly unchanged from one in 820 in the week before.
The picture is similar in Scotland, where the latest estimate is around one in 680 people infected with Covid-19 in the week to 29 May, which is only marginally higher than 630 seven days earlier.
Prof Naismith added: “I do think we might dispense the opinions of those who so confidently opposed lockdowns in autumn, November and December and do so again without any recognition that had the Prime Minister followed their advice, tens of thousands more people would have died.
“Too many families have already faced terrible losses, much loved relatives dying alone and frightened, gasping for air.
“We may be able to open up on June 21 but we should look to the data, not to those who consider so many other people’s lives so cheaply.”