More than 16,000 new confirmed Covid cases were reported in the UK on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since early February, official data has shown, casting even more doubt on the chances of reopening measures coming any earlier than 19 July.
As of 9am on Wednesday there had been another 16,135 coronavirus cases confirmed by laboratories across the UK, official data showed, the highest such total since 6 February.
In contrast, on Tuesday there had been 11,625 cases confirmed, and 9,055 on Wednesday a week ago.
The newest figures showed another 19 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK total to 128,027.
While death figures remain relatively low, the sharp rise in reported cases would appear to make it even less likely that ministers will scrap most Covid restrictions during the midway point of the current four-week delay.
The fourth and final stage of reopening was originally due on 21 June, but the rapid spread of the more virulent Delta variant to become endemic around the UK prompted Boris Johnson to announce a delay until 19 July, to allow more vaccinations to take place.
Johnson said there would be a review into whether this could happen on 5 July if the situation improved. But with ministers due to announce the decision on this on Monday – they have promised a week’s notice for any changes – the rising case numbers make it unlikely.
Also on Wednesday, Downing Street said it was watching any potential spread of the so-called Delta Plus variant, which is the Delta variant with an additional mutation called K417N.
Public Health England has said 41 cases of Delta Plus have been identified across England. Johnson’s spokesperson said: “That is obviously something we are monitoring closely, and Public Health England have said additional measures are already in place where cases of this variant are detected.”
The concern about Delta Plus is that the K417N mutation is also found in the Beta variant, which was first detected in South Africa. There is evidence that suggests the Beta variant could be partially resistant to vaccines based on the original pandemic virus, and to immunity gained from previous Covid infection.
The Delta Plus variant was first observed in India, after which it was briefly named, in early April, and has spread to several countries, including Nepal. However, given that numbers of the variant remain low it is possible that it is not more transmissible than the standard Delta variant.