Liverpool and the West Midlands now have highest-rising level of Covid cases in England

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"Sobering" figures show Liverpool and the West Midlands now have England's highest-rising level of Covid cases – overtaking the South East and East of England.

Knowsley in Merseyside has seen its infection rate more than double in a week as the new coronavirus variant takes hold across the country.

Liverpool and Halton also saw alarming rises, with their infection rates soaring above 1,000 cases per 100,000 people in the aftermath of Christmas.

In the West Midlands, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Walsall also saw huge rises.

Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: "These are sobering figures and it's clear that the virus is spreading very rapidly across the country, and worryingly so for the North West and in particular the Liverpool City Region.

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Liverpool has seen a 'sobering' rise in new Covid cases, latest data shows
(Image: PA)

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"I'd urge everyone to be extra careful and keep doing everything to keep yourself and loved ones safe to stop our NHS being overwhelmed."

In Knowsley the rate has soared from 455.4 cases per 100,000 in the seven days to December 30 to 1,263.4 per 100,000 in the seven days to January 6.

This is the biggest week-on-week rise for any local authority area in England.

Cllr Graham Morgan, leader of Knowsley Council, said: "The rate at which our figures are continuing to increase is a major concern.

Cases have soared in the Liverpool city region, latest data shows
(Image: PA)

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"Clearly there are some in our community who are not taking this situation seriously.

"We have no option but to go back to basics and follow the rules as we all did in the lockdown in the first half of last year."

Halton in Cheshire, also part of the Liverpool City Region, saw the second biggest jump, from 533.2 to 1,220.2.

And Liverpool itself recorded the third largest increase, from 387.5 to 958.6.

New hotspots are emerging in the North West and Midlands
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Matthew Ashton, director of public health at Liverpool City Council, said: "They are very concerning infection rates.

"Our rates have more than doubled in a week.

"Everybody needs to be strictly following the rules. Even if you can do something, it doesn't mean you should.

"In fact we have got a variant of the virus that is 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible, therefore our Covid security measures need to be 50 to 70 per cent stronger, and that is strict adherence to the rules."

Prof Chris Whitty has warned the UK is at a dangerous place in the pandemic

Mr Ashton said pressure on hospitals will be "immense" and despite "pandemic fatigue" the new strain meant there could be no let-up.

He added: "We are going to see more deaths. The next two months are going to be very difficult for everybody. This is literally about saving lives now."

Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Walsall – all within the West Midlands metropolitan county – have also seen sharp increases.

In Wolverhampton, rates have jumped from 638.3 to 1,033.6, in Sandwell they are up from 567.5 to 953.0, and in Walsall they have risen from 497.1 to 815.5.

The figures show how the rapid increase in rates seen in London and much of south-east and eastern England at the end of December has now spread to other parts of the country.

All regions of England continue to record a week-on-week increase in rates, though there are signs in the South and East that the rise is slowing.

In London, the rate stood at 1,000.9 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to January 6, up slightly from 965.4 in the previous week.

Earlier today England's chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty warned the UK is now at its “most dangerous time” with the real threat of the NHS being overwhelmed.

And he warned Brits to avoid “any single unnecessary contact” with anyone else because it could lead to a vulnerable person’s death. That includes going to nurseries and places of worship, he said – which people should only do if they really have to.

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