Covid cases rise by 40% to 3,240 in a week due to Indian variant but deaths remain low at six

THE number of people testing positive for Covid has risen by almost 40 per cent in just a week, with another 3,240 infections reported today.

The troubling news comes as Boris Johnson mulls over a decision on whether he can lift all restrictions on June 21 amid the spread of the Indian mutation.

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Deaths currently remain low, with six fatalities reported today.

It's hoped the low toll means the UK's jabs rollout has severed the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths – despite the super-infectious new variant taking hold.

It comes as:

  • Cases of the Indian variant diagnosed in Bolton have fallen more than 10 per cent in four days after health chiefs deployed surge testing
  • Brit spies are ‘recruiting Chinese whistleblowers on the darkweb’ for intel on fears Covid leaked from a Wuhan lab
  • Fully-vaccinated people who catch Covid may STILL be able pass on variants, it's feared
  • Half of adults in the UK will have been vaccinated with both jabs by the end of the week
  • NHS staff ‘to be legally required to have the jab’ under Government plans to crack down on transmission in hospitals

A further 537,000 vaccinations were carried out in England yesterday.

Ministers are reportedly preparing to row back on 'freedom day' next month, with face masks and the work from home order set to stay in place for weeks to come.

Brits will be told of the decision on June 14, Vaccines Minister Nsdhim Zahawi confirmed today.

Meanwhile, NHS chiefs have warned that hospitals are under "worrying" pressure.

There's uncertainty over the transmissibility of the Indian variant – and it's believed hospitalisations are starting to rise again, although they remain well below the peak in January.

Between May 19 and 25, 870 people went into hospital with coronavirus, an increase of 23.2 per cent compared with the previous seven days.

In Bolton, currently England's worst-affected area, 41 Covid patients were in hospital on May 25. Eight of them were on ventilators.

Just 11 patients in Bolton were hospitalised on May 9, suggesting the Indian variant is putting strain back on the NHS.

And health experts have warned that the June 21 unlocking is still "too early" – even though 95 per cent of over-65s now have coronavirus antibodies and cases are 95.5 per cent below the peak in January.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Sky: "I really think that it is too early to be charging ahead. I would like to see several more weeks' data."

She said the planned date is "very ambitious".

"June 21 is very soon and I think to avoid more preventable deaths we really need to be cautious at the current time," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "We have to be cautious."

"Are we still vaccinating at scale? Big tick. Are the vaccines working? Yes. But are infection rates too high for us to then not be able to proceed because there are too many people getting into hospital? I don't know the answer to it," he said.

One source involved in assessing emerging figures for the Government told the Sunday Times: "If I were to call it now, I'd say step four is highly likely to be delayed."

Elsewhere, officials are understood to be committed to ending social distancing and the 'one metre-plus' rule on June 21.

However, some restrictions – including the use of masks when walking around in places like restaurants and pubs – are set to stay in place.

And a full return to the office looks likely to be delayed.

Scientists advising the Government say life cannot yet go back to normal.

Professor Stephen Reicher, who advises on behavioural science for Sage, said: "The data we are seeing at the moment suggests we have a problem.

"We don't know how big the problem is – it might be bad, it might be very bad, we will learn in the next week or two."

Elsewhere, Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said ending lockdown should be delayed.

The expert said there's a "good argument for caution".

"It's still going to be a few weeks yet until we've got all of the highly clinically vulnerable double-vaccinated and that will probably coincide with the plans to open up more fully," he told the BBC.

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