Covid hospitalisations have been cut in three compared to this stage of the second wave, new data suggests.

The arrival of the highly infectious Delta variant in the UK has derailed plans to lift lockdown completely on June 21, with Boris Johnson pushing the move back to July 19 as cases rise.

Stark warnings from epidemiologists about rising death rates had given the Prime Minister food for thought and convinced him to slow down.

According to Professor Adam Finn, who advises the Government on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the UK is now in the grips of a third wave.

"It's going up, perhaps we can be a little bit optimistic it's not going up any faster, but nevertheless it's going up, so this third wave is definitely under way," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Adam Finn said the third wave is now underway

Despite this alarming realisation, there are reasons to be confident that this time around the virus will wreak far less havoc.

At the moment the data show that hospitalisations are not increasing with the same speed as they were in the second wave.

In the North West hospital rates are a third of what they were during the second wave in September.

This is good news for the region, where the Delta variant arrived earlier and has since pushed infection rates higher than anywhere else in the country.

While the North West's hospitals have been under more pressure in the past week, just 2 per cent of beds are taken up by Covid patients - down from 6 per cent at the end of September.

A third of hospitals across the whole of England have no Covid patients, although that is likely to change as the Delta variant continues to spread.

Coronavirus cases are on the up in the UK (

Image:

ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The improved figures are being driven by the vaccination drive, which has now seen more than 42 million people across the country get a first dose.

Dr Mike Tildesley, epidemiologist and a member of the SPI-M modelling group, said there was reason to be hopeful that hospitalisations would not rise too high.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We are now in a situation where if we sort of wind back a month ago we were starting to see signs of cases creeping up, and they have been creeping steadily for the last four weeks, but we haven't yet seen that reflected in hospital admissions and deaths, which makes me sort of cautiously optimistic about the situation.

"Hospital admissions are starting to rise a little bit, and of course there's always a lag when cases rise that we see any signal in hospital admissions, but of course the vaccination campaign is doing very, very well, and so we're not in the same situation we were back in October when cases were rising, we then got a big wave of hospital admissions and deaths.

"There's still a little bit of work to do for us over the next couple of weeks to really firm up the link between cases and hospital admissions, but I'm, I suppose at the moment, cautiously hopeful that whilst we probably will expect some sort of wave of hospital admissions over the next few weeks, it won't be the same scale that we saw back in January."

Earlier today the UK has reported 10,321 new cases of coronavirus - the highest increase on a Saturday since February - and a further 14 deaths in the latest 24-hour period.

Dr Mike Tildesley said hospitalisations would not rise to January levels (

Image:

2018 Peter Marsh)

It is the third day in a row the UK has recorded more than 10,000 new confirmed infections, and the highest total on a Saturday since 10,406 cases were reported on February 20.

A total of 4,620,968 people have now tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK.

Saturday's figure is a 33 per cent rise on the 7,738 lab-confirmed cases were reported a week ago on June 12, and an increase of almost 80 per cent on 5,765 infections announced on June 5.

On Friday, the UK recorded an additional 11,007 confirmed cases, the highest single-day total since February 19 when 12,027 infections were reported.