Plans to scrap all remaining coronavirus restrictions on June 21 have been derailed in light of a surge in COVID-19 cases. MPs approved the extension of coronavirus restrictions in England until July 19. New data published by scientists supports the decision to put the brakes on.
COVID-19 cases are “rising exponentially” across England driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated age groups, according to scientists tracking the epidemic.
A study commissioned by the Government found that infections have increased 50 percent between May 3 and June 7, coinciding with the rise of the Delta coronavirus variant which was first detected in India and is now the dominant strain in the UK.
The experts from Imperial College London said their findings show a “rapid switch” between the Alpha (Kent) variant, which first appeared in the UK in September 2020, and the Delta variant in the last few weeks, with the latter accounting for up to 90 percent of all coronavirus cases.
But they were quick to allay fears, stressing that the country is in a much different position than autumn last year when an exponential growth triggered a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Stephen Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial and one of the study authors, said: “Prevalence is increasing exponentially and it is being driven by younger ages.”
He added: “And it appears to be doubling every 11 days.
“Clearly that is bad news… but the key thing to point out here is that we are in a very different part of the epidemic in the UK and it is very difficult to predict the duration of the exponential phase.”
The scientists said their findings from the React study suggest that imminent expansion of the vaccine programme to those aged 18 and above “should help substantially to reduce the overall growth of the epidemic”.
Study author Paul Elliott, director of the React programme and chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial, said: “I think we can take quite a lot of comfort from the fact that when we look in the details, it does appear that there is very, very good protection in the older ages, where there is virtually everyone double vaccinated.
“And in the younger group under the age of 65, where a much smaller proportion have been vaccinated or double vaccinated, most infections are occurring in the unvaccinated group.
“And the Government has clearly announced that they want to vaccinate all adults in the period between now and July 19, I think that will make a very big difference and increase the total amount of population immunity.”
Who is driving this spread?
The research, which has been published as a pre-print, shows the vast majority of infections are being driven by children aged between five and 12, as well as younger adults aged between 18 and 24.
Infections in these age groups are around five times higher when compared to those over 65, the researchers said.
Data showed that the “weakened link” between infection rates and hospital admissions was “well maintained” for those aged 65 and above, while “the trends converged below the age of 65 years”.
Prof Riley said: “We have observed this reconvergence in the pattern of hospitalisations and deaths versus infections, especially in an age group under 65.
“These patterns are consistent with two vaccine doses being highly effective.”
Commenting on the findings, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “These findings highlight the stark context in which we took the difficult decision to delay Step 4 of the road map out of lockdown.”
Latest groups eligible for a coronavirus vaccine
You can get the COVID-19 vaccine if:
- You’re aged 21 or over
- You’ll turn 21 before 1 July 2021.
You can book appointments at a larger vaccination centre or pharmacy now, or wait to be invited to go to a local NHS service.