Bradford, Peterborough and Bury are projected to be England's Covid hotspots when the lockdown easing starts in just over a week.

New research suggests many of the worst-affected areas will be in Yorkshire & Humber and the East Midlands when schools reopen on March 8, the first step towards reopening the country.

Kirklees, Wakefield, Corby, Rutland and Leicester are also predicted to have some of the highest rates in England, behind Bradford, Peterborough and Bury, while rates in the South are lower.

Infection rates were still high in parts of the North and Midlands when the first lockdown was eased last summer, triggering a spike in cases in places such as Leicester and Liverpool, and a series of local lockdowns that led to the tier system being imposed.

Predicted Covid hotspots in England
Predicted Covid 'hotspots' for March 8 are shown in red

There were fears there could be a repeat of that scenario if England's third national lockdown was eased too swiftly.

The Government has announced a four-step plan to lift the current restrictions, starting with the reopening of all schools on March 8 and possibly culminating with the end of all curbs on June 21.

The latest predictions from researchers at Imperial College London reveal the places that could have the highest rates when the first step of Bris Johnson's lockdown exit strategy begins in just over a week.

A new map shows projected hotspots mostly confined to the Midlands and the North, with very little probability of any 'red zones' in the South.

A map showing Covid hotspots in the UK
This map shows the Covid 'hotspots' as of this week
Shoppers in Peterborough City Centre and the Market
Shoppers in Peterborough City Centre and the Market last year

View the full interactive map and table here.

It is a huge change from the start of the lockdown on January 5, when most local authorities in England were 'red zones'.

Predicted Covid-19 hotspots

Imperial College predicts these 10 places will be England's worst coronavirus hotspots, based on the weekly number of cases per 100,000 people and its own modelling, on March 8.

  1. Bradford
  2. Peterborough
  3. Bury
  4. Kirklees
  5. Wakefield
  6. Corby
  7. Rutland
  8. Leicester
  9. North West Leicestershire
  10. Tameside

Some of these places are already among the highest rates in England.

Corby in Northamptonshire has the highest rate, with 254 new cases recorded in the seven days to February 21 - the equivalent of 351.7 cases per 100,000 people - according to new data from PA.

People queue outside a Covid-19 testing site in Bury
People queue outside a Covid-19 testing site in Bury

This is up from 317.1 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to February 14.

Peterborough has the second highest rate, up slightly from 262.0 to 264.0, with 534 new cases.

Preston is in third place, up from 213.8 to 253.6, with 363 new cases.

Of the 69 areas to record a week-on-week rise, the top five are:

  1. Rutland (up from 130.2 to 242.9)
  2. Tamworth (189.1 to 250.3)
  3. North Warwickshire (177.7 to 234.4)
  4. Preston (213.8 to 253.6)
  5. Redditch (190.0 to 227.5)

Imperial College London researchers define a hotspot as a local authority where there are more than 100 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 of the population per week.

The predictions are based on current infection rates and a modelling system created by the team at Imperial College.

The projections assume no change in interventions, such as lockdowns or tier restrictions, and human behaviour since a week before the last observed data.