A surge in cases suggests the new and more infectious strain of Covid is spreading fast across Hertfordshire.

London and large swathes of the South East and East of England, including Hertfordshire, were placed in new Tier 4 measures on Sunday after scientists warned of the rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus.

Hertfordshire County Council says it has seen a rise of infections due to the new strain, with a record number of new cases (961) reported on a single day in the county, on Sunday. 

More than 7,000 people in the county have tested positive for Covid in December - the worst hit districts currently being Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford, and Three Rivers.

The rise in cases comes as health bodies and Hertfordshire’s public health director warn of “extreme pressure” at hospitals, particularly Watford General, which is looking after a record number of Covid patients at one time (149 as of December 18). 

Public health chief Jim McManus said the situation in hospitals is “worst than the first wave”, although less Covid patients are dying thanks to new treatments.

Hertfordshire County Council tweeted on Saturday that it has seen a “significant recent spike in cases locally, as a result of the new variant”.

Sunday’s case figures revealed Covid is rampant in several south Hertfordshire areas, with cases either very high or rising quickly in Watford, Bushey, Borehamwood, St Albans, Leavesden, Croxley Green, South Oxhey, and Potters Bar.

Watford Observer:

This Government map shows where the coronavirus hotspots are in and anound Watford. The darker the colour, the more cases there are in that area

Out of just over 3,000 cases between December 1 and 10, figures on the county council website showed the majority of these people were aged 10-19 (616 cases) and 40-49 (585), while just under 200 were people aged over 70.

Residents in Tier 4 areas have been told by the government to help limit the spread of the new variant of Covid - which is claimed to be 70 per cent more transmissible - by staying at home.

What do we know about the new coronavirus strain?

Jim McManus, Hertfordshire director of public health, said it is estimated that the new strain is becoming the predominant type spreading in many of the areas of London, the South East and East of England.

But he said tests will still work to identify the strain and that the vaccine is still effective.

Mr McManus said: “Variants of viruses arise all the time in response to either the way our body responds to viruses or because of the environment, or both. This is natural.  Some variants become “fitter” or better able to infect and reproduce, others fail.

“Coronavirus mutations, on the whole, do not change as much as ‘flu viruses and are a little more stable, so we may or may not need a regular updating of the vaccine in future.”

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In a statement, Hertfordshire County Council leader David Williams said the county’s move to Tier 4 is “very disappointing” but said it is "vital" to follow the new rules to bring infections down.

He said: "The Government has taken this decision in response to a new, faster spreading variant of the virus which is creating a significant increase to case numbers across London and the south east.

“It is vital we follow the new rules to prevent it spreading. We recognise the concerns that this escalation will prompt with both residents and businesses, and the additional restrictions and tougher rules that this involves.

“We also recognise the sacrifices they will be making yet again for the health, wellbeing and safety of the county.”