LONDON — The U.K. on Saturday recorded its most new coronavirus infections since early February as the National Health Service ran a “grab a jab” initiative to further drive up vaccination rates.
Government figures showed that another 18,270 people tested positive for the virus across the U.K, the highest daily number since Feb. 5. Over the past week, nearly 100,000 people in the country have tested positive, a near 50 percent increase compared to the week before.
That has raised questions over whether England will be able to end lockdown restrictions as now planned. The Conservative government already delayed that move once, resetting it from last Monday to July 19. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following similar plans.
Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters marched through central London on Saturday. Some threw tennis balls into Downing Street, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has his office and residence. “Shame on you,” some chanted.
Daily cases have risen fairly sharply over the past few weeks. The Delta variant, which was first identified in India and is considered by government scientists to be between 40 percent to 80 percent more transmissible than the previous dominant strain, accounts for nearly all the new cases in the U.K., officials say.
Most of the new confirmed cases are among younger age groups which have not yet received Covid vaccines. Hundreds of walk-in vaccination sites, including at stadiums and shopping centers, opened in England over the weekend in a bid to boost vaccine numbers, particularly among those younger age groups.
“This is a phenomenal achievement, and it’s fantastic to see so many young people coming forward for their jabs, doing their bit to protect themselves and their loved ones,” the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said.
As of Saturday, nearly two-thirds of the U.K. population had received at least one vaccine dose while 48 percent have had two.
Recent analysis from Public Health England showed that two doses of the main vaccines the U.K. is using are highly effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant — 96 percent in the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 92 percent for the AstraZeneca jab.
Though the number of people in hospitals and dying have been edging up over the past couple of weeks, they have not risen at the same rate as infections. On Saturday, the government said another 227 people had been hospitalized, taking the total to 1,505. Those numbers are nowhere near the levels recorded earlier in the year during the peak of a second surge, when hospitalizations neared 40,000. Virus-related deaths have also remained relatively low at 23.