Data looking at all strains of coronavirus show there were 2,874 new positive cases and seven deaths recorded in the UK yesterday, with 16,107 cases in the last week.
There have so far been 3,245 cases of the Indian variant confirmed in England, along with 136 in Scotland, 28 in Wales and 15 in Northern Ireland.
The variant, named B1.617.2, has a mutation which makes it more infectious, though exactly by how much remains unclear.
Separate data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that it now makes up 19.6% of cases and the number of cases is rising even as infections from the UK’s currently dominant Kent variant fall.
The Indian variant has now become the dominant strain in more than 20 local authority areas, including Bolton, Sefton and Bedford.
The government has been speeding up the vaccine rollout in Bolton to try and get on top of the rise in cases.
In the area, 82.2% of people aged 60 and over are now fully vaccinated, up from 75.2% seven days earlier.
In Blackburn with Darwen, which has the second highest Covid rate in the UK and where the Indian variant is also driving a spike in cases, 79.2% of those aged 60 and over have received both doses, up from 74.3%.
In Bedford, which has the third highest rate, the proportion of people 60 and over fully vaccinated has risen week-on-week from 72.4% to 80.4%.
The prime minister has warned that the Indian variant could delay the roadmap out of lockdown, with ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21 potentially being set back.
He added that the UK should not ‘waste the opportunity’ offered by vaccination by allowing people to travel widely across the world.
When asked on BBC Breakfast if the country was at the start of the third wave, he said: ‘I think so.’
He said: ‘The vaccine isn’t 100%, effective, and also even in the younger groups if you get many, many thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases, then you will expect a lot of hospitalisations and deaths to result from that.
‘So that’s the threat. And it’s really over the next week or two we will see how much these outbreaks that at the moment are relatively localised, how much they become generalised across the population. And if that happens, that’s when we’re going to be much more worried.’
Prof Hayward added that it was his ‘hunch’ that the Indian strain would become dominant in the UK and possibly across the world.
He said: ‘That really brings it back down to this race against the vaccine and the virus, except the virus just got faster.’
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