A government scientific adviser has said a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is âdefinitely under wayâ as the vaccine programme races to outpace the Delta variantâs spread across the UK.
It comes after Public Health England reported a 79% rise in the number of cases of the variant first identified in India in a week. Hospital admissions have almost doubled.
Experts say the sudden increase is being driven by infections among younger people. The vaccination programme was opened up to people aged 18 and over on Friday and surge testing is being rolled out in parts of south London and Cumbria.
Prof Adam Finn, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Radio 4âs Today programme: âItâs going up, perhaps we can be a little bit optimistic itâs not going up any faster, but nevertheless itâs going up, so this third wave is definitely under way.
âWe can conclude that the race is firmly on between the vaccine programme, particularly getting older peopleâs second doses done, and the Delta variant third wave.â
He said the JCVI was still deciding whether children should be vaccinated, but that at the moment adults are the priority.
âEven if some decision were made to immunise children it wouldnât be appropriate right now, either here or anywhere else in Europe, to give our doses predominantly to children because itâs adults that get sick, so vaccinating adults is clearly the priority right now,â he said.
Asked whether he felt confident that vaccinations would outpace the variant, he said: âNo, I donât feel confident, but I think thereâs some grounds for optimism.â
He told Times Radio: âThe latest ONS figures continue to show a rise, but that rise has not accelerated quite as much as Iâd feared over the last week. So, the race is on.â
He said administering second doses, especially to older people, as quickly as possible would be key to avoiding âa great big surge of hospitalisations and deathsâ.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist and a member of the SPI-M modelling group, said those becoming infected and being admitted to hospital were âslightly younger, and therefore also slightly less sickâ and had a higher chance of recovery.
âAll of these are cautiously good signs but, of course, we do need to keep an eye on this over the next couple of weeks so that we can give as much information as we can to the government prior to the 19 July reopening,â he told BBC Breakfast.
Surge testing was being rolled out in south London on Saturday in Clapham, Brixton, Stockwell, West Norwood and Vauxhall. People who live in Lambeth are being strongly encouraged to take a PCR test even if they do not have symptoms.
In Cumbria, everyone aged 12 to 30 has also been urged to take a test, and pupils will be offered tests at school.
The government said people in these areas should also continue to use free lateral flow tests twice a week.
Giant vaccination clinics are expected to open in London this weekend, including at the Olympic Stadium, and the Tottenham Hotspur Chelsea and Charlton Athleticfootball grounds.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, is considering cancelling the 10 days of self-isolation for people who have had two vaccines if they come into contact with an infected person, according to the Times.
Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Times Radio it was already happening in the US.
âThe Centres for Disease Control changed their guidance a while ago to say that people who had had both doses of the vaccine and about 10 to 14 days after the second dose didnât have to self-isolate, so I think we are moving in that direction,â she said.