Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press conference that up to three-quarters of new coronavirus cases were the Indian variant, though he stressed that the vaccines were having an effect on keeping people out of hospital.
He said: “The latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three-quarters of all new cases are now of this variant.
“As we set out our road map we always expected cases to rise, we must remain vigilant.
“The aim, of course, is to break the link to hospitalisations and deaths so that cases alone no longer require stringent restrictions on people’s lives.”
6,959 new cases
New data from Public Health England (PHE) shows 6,959 cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK.
The figures are up to May 26, and represent a rise of 3,535 on the previous week.
In England, 6,180 cases have been confirmed, along with 702 in Scotland, 58 in Wales and 19 in Northern Ireland.
The local areas most affected by the Indian variant of coronavirus continue to be Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen.
Seven further areas in England have more than 100 confirmed cases of the variant: Leicester, Sefton, Nottingham, Wigan, Central Bedfordshire, Manchester and Hillingdon.
Mr Hancock said the increase in cases of the Indian variant remained focused in “hotspots” where surge testing and vaccinations were taking place.
“The increase in cases remains focused in hotspots and we are doing all we can to tackle this variant wherever it flares up,” he said.
He added that of the 49 people in hospital with coronavirus in Bolton, only five have had both doses of vaccine.
“So when you get the call, get the jab, and make sure you come forward for your second doses so you can get the maximum possible protection,” he said.
“The vaccine is severing the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus.”
More cases not translating to more hospitalisations
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said public health experts “are actively going out and finding cases so we do expect cases to rise”, plus cases were expected to go up through increased socialising.
She told the briefing that when looking at patterns of cases, such as in London, “we’ve seen a bit of community transmission and then it’s closed down again”.
She said it was “on the cusp at the moment” over whether rising cases reflected the variant taking off or whether there was a rise because more cases are being hunted for and detected.
“On the good news, of course, we are not seeing that generally translating into increased cases of hospitalisation and definitely not into deaths,” she said.
“So the key message there is.. if we can hold it while the vaccination programme gets rolled out, we stand a much better chance of getting through this session.”
In England on May 24, there were 98 hospital admissions for Covid-19, slightly above the seven-day average (88) but down 98% from the second-wave peak.