Cases of the COVID variant first detected in India have more than doubled in the UK over the last week, new data shows.
According to Public Health England, infections with the variant rose to 6,959 since last week, up by 3,535 from seven days ago.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, UK health minister Matt Hancock confirmed the trend.
Up to 75 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases in the UK, he said, have been connected to the B.1.617.2 variant.
The rise comes as the British government has sought to ramp up testing efforts in areas most affected by the variant.
Still, the spread of the Indian variant has raised fresh concerns over whether the British government will be able to push forward with its plans to lift all lockdown restrictions in England on June 21.
Earlier on Thursday, Hancock told MPs it was “too early now to say” whether lockdown restrictions would be fully lifted by next month.
“This isn’t over yet,” he told journalists at his later press conference, asserting that rising case rates of the Indian variant “demonstrate that”.
While Hancock urged patience, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to offer mixed messages on whether the rise of the Indian variant could hamper plans to relax restrictions completely.
“I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the roadmap, but we may need to wait,” he said on Thursday.
Ultimately, both Hancock and Johnson have stressed that the best thing Britons can do to combat the spread of coronavirus is to get fully vaccinated.
Already, the recent rise in cases of the variant has seen travel restrictions imposed on Britons, with France introducing mandatory quarantine for people entering the country from the UK.