THE Delta variant first identified in India now comprises 91 percent of cases of coronavirus in the UK, the Health Secretary has said.

Matt Hancock told MPs this was according to an assessment he saw on Wednesday evening.

Mr Hancock was speaking on Thursday during more than four hours of questioning by MPs on the science and health committees.

It comes just weeks after parts of the North East were told surge testing would begin in a bid to tackle cases of the Indian variant. 

Read more: Surge testing to take place in North-East area amid Indian variant concerns

The UK Government is expected to decide next week whether to proceed with a further easing of restrictions in England on June 21, dubbed “freedom day” by some, amid concerns about the dominant variant.

According to Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was instrumental to the UK locking down in March 2020, it may be 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which swept across the UK over the winter peak.

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation’s Europe director warned that the Delta variant first identified in India was “poised to take hold in the region” as many countries prepare to ease restrictions.

Dr Hans Kluge said it had shown signs of being able to evade some vaccines and that some vulnerable people remained unprotected.

“We have been here before,” he said. “Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups and then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence.”

Dr Kluge said that the spike in Covid-19 cases ultimately led to more lockdowns and deaths in the autumn and winter of 2020, adding: “Let’s not make that mistake again.”

In May, the Health Secretary confirmed surge testing would need to take place in North Tyneside following a rise of cases where the Indian variant had been detected.

At the time, he said an "extensive" system to identify areas where the Government is most concerned in a bad to tackle further outbreaks.

That came as customers of a popular Tynemouth bar had just been asked to take a Covid-19 test after a case of the Indian variant was linked to the premises.

Anyone who visited Allard’s Lounge in Tynemouth between April 23 and May 3 was last month urged to book a PCR test by the local authority.