Delta variant '40% more transmissible': United Kingdom health minister

Cases in Kent have risen but the vaccine programme remains on track

"That figure, around 40 per cent more transmissible, is indeed the latest advice I have", health secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.

Britain's health secretary on Sunday said a coronavirus variant first detected in India was roughly 40 percent more transmissible than the so-called United Kingdom strain blamed for a severe COVID-19 outbreak over the winter.

However, Hancock said two vaccine doses appeared to provide "the same protection as the old variant", and that Brits under 30 would be eligible to begin receiving COVID inoculations in the coming days.

Ministers are "absolutely open" to delaying the unlocking in England, he said.

"Everybody must go and get their second jab though because the first isn't as effective on its own". If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online.

Mr Hancock said he expected "around three fifths" of all adults to have been fully-vaccinated by June 21, with 52% now double-jabbed, as indicators suggest vaccines are helping to cut the link between case rises and an increase in hospital admissions. One of the four critical tests set by the government for a reopening is that the assessment of the risk from the deadly virus is not fundamentally changed by new VOC.

The news comes as people who have been contacted to bring forward their second coronavirus vaccine appointment are being urged to rebook as soon as possible.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has given the clearest sign yet June 21's so-called Freedom Day could be pushed back by rising coronavirus case numbers.

It has been reported that revisions to the road map could see the Government backtrack on encouraging a return to the workplace, while social distancing in bars and restaurants is likely to remain, along with limits on audiences in theatres and cinemas.

"Yes, I wouldn't rule that out", Mr Hancock told the BBC.

All adults aged 25 to 29 in England who have not yet had a Covid vaccine will be able to book their first dose from tomorrow.

Hancock stressed the importance of Britons getting their vaccinations.

On Friday the United Kingdom recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases - 6,238 - since late March, according to official figures, although Saturday's number was down slightly at 5,765 lab-confirmed cases.