The ‘Delta’ variant of the coronavirus, a highly transmissible mutant that was first identified in India, has become the dominant ‘variant of concern’ (VOC) in the United Kingdom and may pose a greater risk of hospitalisation in patients, British health officials said.

The Delta variant has been identified in 5,472 COVID-19 cases this week, taking the total number of such infections to 12,431 on Thursday, PTI quoted the Public Health England (PHE), which monitors all COVID variants in the country, as saying.

Experts have also cited recent data to conclude that the Delta variant will soon overtake Alpha, the first VOC in the country.

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“With this variant now dominant across the UK, it remains vital that we all continue to exercise as much caution as possible,” Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said.

“The way to tackle variants is to tackle the transmission of COVID-19 as a whole. Work from home where you can, and practice ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ at all times. If you are eligible and have not already done so, please come forward to be vaccinated and make sure you get your second jab. It will save lives,” she said.

PHE also said early evidence suggests there may be an "increased risk of hospitalisation" with Delta compared to Alpha, "although more data is needed for us to have more confidence in that finding".

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According to the breakdown of official figures, this week 278 people with the Delta variant attended hospital in an emergency. Last week, 201 people attended hospital.

“Once again, the majority of these had not been vaccinated,” PHE said, in reference to its previous studies which showed that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are “highly effective” against the Delta VOC.

The areas most affected by the Delta variant remain in the north west of England with Bolton, where cases have risen by 795 to 2,149, and Blackburn with Darwen which has seen 368 new cases, bringing it to 724 in total.

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PHE said there are “encouraging signs” that the transmission rate in Bolton has begun to fall and that the actions taken by residents and local authority teams have been successful in reducing spread.

Experts continue to urge people to “remain cautious” as the country approaches the next stage of the roadmap, with June 21 scheduled as a date for an end of all lockdown restrictions.

“Variant cases are on the increase in several areas and it is absolutely crucial that everyone plays their part in preventing their spread,” PHE said.

In Bolton, local teams have gone door to door in targeted areas on consecutive weekends to distribute test kits, share vital safety messages and encourage people to get the vaccine at a local drop-in centre.

Take up of both testing and the vaccine was described as "positive".

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Blackburn with Darwen has also seen local teams making door-to-door visits, and over 10,000 additional PCR tests have been given out.

Mobile testing units have been deployed to the area and wastewater sampling continues, in order to track the spread of the variant.

PHE said its health protection teams continue to work with local authorities and schools to carry out surveillance of COVID-19 cases in schools to understand and reduce transmission in these settings. It found outbreaks and clusters in primary and secondary schools are at low levels but has seen a “slight increase” over recent weeks, in line with higher levels of the Delta variant circulating in the community.