'Delta' variant behind renewed COVID spread in England, ONS suggests

FILE PHOTO: A social distancing sign is seen amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Leicester, Britain, May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

LONDON (Reuters) – The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England almost doubled in the last week of May as the “delta” variant of COVID-19 first detected in India likely became the most widespread, official estimates showed on Friday.

The Office for National Statistics said an estimated 1 in 640 people in England had COVID-19 in the week ending May 29, compared to 1 in 1,120 a week earlier, marking the highest proportion since the first half of April.

The estimates – based on samples of the population – also suggested the UK variant of COVID was no longer the dominant strain in England.

“In the week ending 29 May 2021, we have seen an increase in cases in England that are not compatible with the UK variant… these are likely to be the variant … first identified in India,” the ONS said.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would be cautious in lifting coronavirus restrictions as it is still unclear how protected the population would be against a new surge of COVID-19 cases should lockdown end as planned later this month.

The delta variant is thought to spread more rapidly than the previously dominant UK variant, although experts say that vaccines still offer protection against severe disease.

Last month, Public Health England said two shots of COVID-19 vaccine were almost as effective against the delta variant as they were against the UK variant.

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