More than 7 million – or one in eight – people in England are living in areas experiencing high Covid rates, close to four times the number just two weeks ago.
Many of those affected live in the country’s most deprived areas and are facing a combination of high case rates and lower-than-average vaccine uptake, according to the available data.
A total of 7,136,244 are living in areas that recorded 100 or more cases per 100,000 population on 5 June, despite the success of the UK’s vaccine programme.
Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire is now the worst affected local authority in the UK with 667 cases per 100,000 population as of 7 June, according to the latest data.
All 18 small areas in the local authority of Blackburn with Darwen have coronavirus case rates of at least 231 per 100,000 people, rising to a rate of 1,208 in East Darwen.
As of 5 June there were 861 middle-layer super-output areas (MSOAs) – areas housing an average of 8,000 people – with elevated case rates. This compares with 460 a week earlier.
31% of these areas are in the most deprived areas of the country (bottom quintile), continuing a trend of the most deprived areas of the country facing the brunt of the pandemic.
A Guardian analysis of the worst-hit areas in terms of cases shows that they are more likely to also suffer from lower vaccination rates. Six of the 10 worst-hit areas have below-average vaccination rates. For example, Central Blackburn’s vaccination rate among over-30s stands at 76.4%, far lower than the national average of 87.5%.
The worst three – East Darwen, Wensley Fold and Little Harwood in Blackburn with Darwen – all have lower-than-average vaccine uptake among over-30s despite previous surge vaccinations in the local authority.
The average number of people in hospital with Covid doubled in Blackburn with Darwen in the 12 days to 8 June, showing that high case rates have led to some of those infected requiring hospital treatment.
Hospitalisations remain low: 30 people were being treated for Covid in East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust on 8 June, compared with its second-wave high of 311.
But Prof Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said there was potential for hospitalisations to rise even though the vaccination campaign has weakened the link between the numbers of new infections and the numbers of hospital admissions and deaths.
He added: “I’d still expect there to be, on average, higher rates of hospitalisation in places where the rate of new cases is higher – just not so much hospitalisation or really serious illness than there would have been before the vaccines.”
On 29 March Boris Johnson relaxed restrictions to allow up to six people in England to meet outdoors before allowing pubs and restaurants to open outdoors on 12 April and indoors on 17 May.
The relaxation in the rules has led to a change in behaviour among the public: half of all adults met up with someone outside their household last week but just two-thirds (68%) said they maintained social distancing (down from 88% in early April). One in eight (12%) say they plan to travel abroad before September.
The Delta variant, which took hold within the same period, may now account for up to 91% of all new cases according to the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
Public Health England estimates that the Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, with a doubling in cases of between 4.5 days and 11.5 days, depending on the region.