As we reported earlier, the UK’s Office for National Statistics has spotted early signs of a rise in coronavirus cases in England as efforts ramp up to contain outbreaks of the more transmissible variant first detected in India.
Based on swabs from random community testing across the UK, the ONS estimates that about 49,000 people in England, or one in 1,110, were positive for the virus in the week ending 15 May, up from 40,800 or one in 1,340 the week before.
While cases have continued to fall in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the survey found hints that infections are on the rise in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East and South East of England. The swabs suggest that any rise so far is driven by the Kent variant.
The time taken to perform genome sequencing means there is a greater lag in results for the B.1.617.2 variant first found in India. In the four weeks to 9 May – the latest period the ONS has data for – the survey found only two confirmed cases of the B.1.617.2 variant.
Scientists advising the government expect infections to rise as England follows the roadmap out of lockdown, but the latest numbers do not take account of the most substantial easing of restrictions this year. On 17 May, step three of the roadmap re-opened indoor hospitality, including pubs, cafes and restaurants, and allowed six people or two households to meet indoors.
Infections in England appear to be on the rise in particular age groups, with the survey reporting potential increases in primary school children, those aged 35 to 49, and more worryingly in the over 70s, though rates remain low making concrete trends hard to discern.
Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the ONS survey, said: “Although we have seen an early indication of a potential increase in England, rates remain low and it is too soon to say if this is the start of a trend. When rates are low they can change direction more easily, so it is crucial that we continue to monitor infection rates as restrictions are lifted and people are able to socialise more widely.”