The number of Delta variant infections has jumped by 33,630 in a week to hit a total of 75,953 in the UK, with the highly transmissible variant first identified in India now making up 99 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the country, health officials said on Friday.
Public Health England (PHE), which has been tracking variant of concerns (VOCs) on a weekly basis, said its data shows an increased risk of hospitalisation with Delta VOC compared to Alpha — the VOC first detected in the Kent region of England.
It also pointed to its previous findings that two doses of a COVID vaccine gives a “high degree of protection” against hospitalisation from the Delta variant.
“PHE’s weekly COVID-19 variant cases data show that numbers of the Delta variant in the UK have risen by 33,630 since last week to a total of 75,953,” PHE reports.
“The most recent data show 99 per cent of sequenced and genotyped cases across the country are the Delta variant. Data show an increased risk of hospitalisation with Delta compared to Alpha, although PHE’s analysis shows that two doses of vaccine gives a high degree of protection against hospitalisation, estimated to be more than 90 per cent,” it said.
According to the analysis, as of June 14, a total of 806 people have been hospitalised with the Delta variant, an increase of 423 since last week.
Of these, 527 were unvaccinated, and only 84 of the 806 had received both doses.
It finds that deaths are not high, as the case fatality rate remains low for Delta.
However, it points out that deaths tend to happen some weeks after an infection and it is therefore too early to judge the case fatality of Delta compared to Alpha or other VOCs.
“Cases are rising rapidly across the country and the Delta variant is now dominant,” said Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency.
“The increase is primarily in younger age groups, a large proportion of which were unvaccinated but are now being invited to receive the vaccine. It is encouraging to see that hospitalisations and deaths are not rising at the same rate but we will continue to monitor it closely,” she said.
“The vaccination programme and the care that we are all taking to follow the guidance are continuing to save lives. Please make sure that you come forward to receive both doses of the vaccine as soon as you are eligible. Don’t drop your guard — practise ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ at all times,” she added.
In separate population surveillance data on possible COVID-19 reinfections offering some hope of long-term immunity, the PHE found a “low risk” of reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
There were 15,893 possible reinfections with SARS-CoV-2 identified up to May 30 in England throughout the pandemic, out of nearly 4 million people with confirmed infections. This is equivalent to around 0.4 per cent cases becoming reinfected.
“While we know that people can catch viruses more than once, this data currently suggests that the rate of COVID-19 reinfection is low,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, Strategic Director for COVID-19 at PHE.
“However, it is important that we do not become complacent about this — it is vital to have both doses of the vaccine and to follow the guidance at all times to reduce your chance of any infection,” she said.
PHE said there is currently no evidence that the Delta VOC, or any other VOCs, are more likely to cause reinfection than others, but that it continues to closely monitor this and other reinfection data.
The PHE results follow an Imperial College London led Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-1) study, based on over 100,000 home swab tests, which reported on Thursday that the number of people infected with the coronavirus is doubling every 11 days.
The Delta VOC is seen as the main factor behind a feared third wave of the pandemic in the UK, with the government delaying lifting all lockdown restrictions by a month until July 19 to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed.