THIS map reveals the hotspots of the Indian Covid variant, which is now dominant in 43 areas of England.
Bolton has been the hardest-hit, nearing 500 cases of the strain detected in two weeks.
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The variant is now the most dominant in the Greater Manchester town, accounting for 89 per cent of cases.
The official data, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, accounts for the fortnight to May 15, and so cases are likely to be higher now.
Public Health England (PHE) say almost 3,500 cases have been detected so far.
But more recent data from the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests it is double that, at 6,431. Although this is a preliminary number.
The rapidly-spreading mutated virus has finally overtaken the Kent strain which forced England into the third national lockdown in January.
PHE said 53.8 per cent of infections in mid-May had the “S gene” — a tell-tale sign of the Indian variant, named B.1.617.2.
COG-UK said it was behind 49.6 per cent of cases since May 16, compared to 43.7 per cent attributed to the Kent variant.
The strain has been shown to be both faster spreading and have some degree of immunity escape, meaning it can dodge antibodies produced by those vaccinated or previously infected.
But it is unclear, at this stage, whether it impacts the lockdown roadmap – the next step of which is in four weeks time dubbed “Freedom Day”.
Where are England’s hotposts?
Looking at case numbers, Bolton has the highest at 488 followed by Blackburn, with 132.
The remaining hotspots are Bedford (100), Sefton (72), Leicester (45) and Nottingham (44).
The Indian variant is now the most prolific strain circulating in these areas, meaning if someone catches the coronavirus, it is most likely the Indian strain they have.
The fast-spreading mutation is also dominant in several London boroughs, including in Croydon where it makes up 87 per cent of cases.
It accounts for more than half of all positive test results in Hillingdon, Camden, Barnet, Havering, Greenwich, Barking and Dagenham and Bromley.
Where are the Indian variant hotspots?
In the following places, the Indian strain is dominant, but cases are not necessarily high:
- West Oxfordshire 100 per cent
- Blackburn 90 per cent
- Bolton 89 per cent
- Rushmoor 88 per cent
- Croydon 87 per cent
- Sefton 81 per cent
- Bedford 81 per cent
- Ribble Valley 80 per cent
- South Oxfordshire 80 per cent
- Dartford 78 per cent
- Chorley 77 per cent
- Hart 75 per cent
- Nottingham 74 per cent
- Hillingdon 72 per cent
- Bristol 69 per cent
- South Northamptonshire 69 per cent
- Reading 68 per cent
- Preston 68 per cent
- Canterbury 67 per cent
- Sevenoaks 67 per cent
- Greenwich 67 per cent
- Chelmsford 67 per cent
- Central Bedfordshire 67 per cent
- Test Valley 66 per cent
- Wigan 64 per cent
- East Northamptonshire 62 per cent
- West Lancashire 60 per cent
- Stevenage 60 per cent
- Wiltshire 60 per cent
- Havering 60 per cent
- Camden 60 per cent
- Woking 60 per cent
- Ealing 59 per cent
- North Hertfordshire 57 per cent
- Barnet 57 per cent
- Burnley 56 per cent
- Swindon 56 per cent
- Fylde 55 per cent
- Rossendale 53 per cent
- Bromley 52 per cent
- Barking and Dagenham 50 per cent
- Slough 50 per cent
- East Hertfordshire 50 per cent
The following places have the highest case numbers in the country in the two weeks to May 15:
- Bolton: 488
- Blackburn: 132
- Bedford: 100
- Sefton: 72
- Leicester: 45
- Nottingham: 44
And in other parts of the country, it’s most common in Rushmoor, Sefton, Ribble Valley, Dartford and parts of Oxfordshire.
However, dominance of the Indian strain does not necessarily mean case numbers are high.
For example, in West Oxfordshire, the Indian strain has 100 per cent dominance. But it has only actually been detected there around three times.
And in London’s epicentre, Croydon, only 13 cases have been reported so far.
It’s lower than the 20 in Hounslow and 23 in Greenwich.
It comes as the Government sneaked in new restrictions for people living in areas where the variant is rapidly spreading.
Ministers are warning people not to enter or leave areas where the strain is spreading fastest “unless it is essential”, and not to meet up indoors.
But incredibly local leaders and MPs weren’t even told about the changes, which were dumped on the Government website last Friday evening.
Freedoms at risk
Scientists have warned that the country’s situation could go one of two ways as England nears the June 21 end of lockdown.
There is still potential the variant will run rampant among mostly unvaccinated people and cause a considerable amount of disease in the population.
This is predicted to happen some time in the late summer, even with vaccines.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he believes we can “ride out this summer” with the use of jabs.
Whether a rise in cases would lead to significant hospitalisations is a key concern; in hotspots admissions have already tripled.
Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said it would be known in a few weeks if the rise in infections linked to the Indian strain was “completely uncoupled from hospitalisations and deaths”.
However, the jabs are weaker against the Indian strain when compared to the Kent strain.
Two Pfizer doses is 88 per cent effective against symptomatic Covid, while two doses of AstraZeneca is 66 per cent effective.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the figures were “groundbreaking”.
Other experts have doubts over lifting the lockdown on June 21 when middle-aged people only have one vaccine dose, and the majority of youngests have none at all.