Coronavirus cases are on the rise again in Dorset as the lifting of restrictions was delayed by four weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the roadmap easing earmarked for Monday, June 21 will be delayed for four weeks to July 19.

Experts feared going ahead with Step 4 on Monday, June 21 as planned could lead to hospital admissions on the scale of the first wave of Covid-19, heaping unsustainable pressure on the health service.

To avert this, Mr Johnson said during a Downing Street press conference that it is “sensible to wait just a little longer” as he put back the end of all legal limits on social contact to July 19, saying he is “confident” no further delay will be necessary.

The announcement means that current rules and limits on numbers for sports events, pubs and cinemas will remain in place, nightclubs will stay closed and people will be encouraged to continue to practice social distancing and working from home.

While coronavirus cases have rapidly increased in other parts of the country, Dorset numbers have remained low, but continue to rise.

Here are some reasons why coronavirus cases may be increasing again in Dorset.

What are the latest coronavirus figures for Dorset?

Dorset Echo: Active coronavirus cases in Dorset according to Public Health DorsetActive coronavirus cases in Dorset according to Public Health Dorset

According to the latest Government figures, 54 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the county in the 24 hours leading up to 4pm on Tuesday, June 15.

Of these new cases, 14 new cases were reported in the Dorset Council area while there has been a total of 40 new cases recorded across the BCP Council area.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 37,974 cases of Covid-19 confirmed across Dorset. There have been 12,124 cases confirmed in Dorset Council area, while 25,850 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the BCP Council area.

The rolling seven-day period, which is up to Thursday, June 10, 87 cases were reported in the Dorset Council area is, with a case rate of 23 per 100,000 people. Meanwhile in the BCP Council area, there have been 190 cases with a case rate of 48.1 per 100,000 people.

Emergence of the Delta variant in Dorset

Dorset Echo: Outside Weymouth's coronavirus testing siteOutside Weymouth's coronavirus testing site

86 cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 have already been identified across Dorset, according to the latest figures by Public Health England.

Their statistics show that of the positive cases sequenced up to Wednesday, June 8, 62 in the BCP Council were the Delta variant. Dorset Council area had 24 Delta cases.

Public Health England said that genotype sequencing, which establishes which variant of the virus someone has, is being carried out on between 65 and 70 per cent of all positive tests.

The emergency of the Delta variant could explain why coronavirus cases have suddenly increased in recent weeks, especially in Dorset.

The variant, which originated in India, continues to show a significantly higher rate of growth compared to the Alpha variant, which was first found in the UK.

Nationally, data indicates that more 90 per cent of new Covid-19 cases in the UK are now the Delta variant.

Current coronavirus restrictions and improved weather

Dorset Echo: Weymouth beach on Saturday, June 12. Picture: Dorset EchoWeymouth beach on Saturday, June 12. Picture: Dorset Echo

As per the roadmap, people are able to travel a distance for staycations, day trips or to see family and friends.

Most legal restrictions on meeting others outdoors were lifted on May 17 - although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal. Indoors, the Rule of six or two households apply.

Social distancing measures are still in place, but hugging and close contact is allowed within a household bubble.

The social mobility and improved weather have seen tourists and sun seekers flock to Dorset’s beauty spots and beaches in recent weeks.

It is not clear if this is why more coronavirus cases have been reported in the area, or if this caused the Delta variant to be brought into the county, but it is a theory.

The geography of Dorset

Dorset Echo: Entering DorsetEntering Dorset (Image: Graham Hunt)

Looking broadly at Dorset, the county is predominately rural but there are built-up areas in the BCP Council area.

Dorset Council does contain larger towns such as Weymouth, Dorchester, Bridport, Blandford Forum, Gillingham and Shaftesbury, but also contains large rural areas.

Theoretically, the area’s population being spread over Dorset Council area would help reduce the transmission of Covid-19. Yet, there are still some cases being reported in the area.

In an interactive map, Public Health England breaks down the numbers of Covid-19 cases into neighbourhoods called 'Middle Super Output Areas' (MSOAs), which are smaller than council wards and based on population rather than geographical area.

The latest active coronavirus clusters are reported in the Gillingham area, as well as near Blandford Forum, north of Dorchester and Beaminster.

Meanwhile in the BCP Council area, more than 20 areas have reported more than three coronavirus cases. East Cliff alone has 22 active coronavirus cases – an increase of 20 on the week before.

A rise in Covid-19 cases in BCP Council area could be explained by its urban and vast population in a more developed area, meaning that the virus could be theoretically more transmissible.

What about vaccines – doesn’t that prevent the spread of Covid-19?

Dorset Echo: Nearly one million coronavirus vaccines have been given in DorsetNearly one million coronavirus vaccines have been given in Dorset

The good news from the Government’s latest data shows that 959,318 vaccinations have been administered across Dorset.

In the Dorset Council area, 502,510 vaccinations have been given, which includes 275,032 first doses and 227,478 second doses.

456, 808 vaccinations have been administered in the BCP Council area, which includes 251,570 first doses and 205,238 second doses.

New data from Public Health England showing vaccines are “highly effective” in preventing hospital admission from the Delta variant as well as minimize the effects of Covid-19.

The research suggests that both the Pfizer and Oxford jabs are just as effective at combatting admissions from the new strain, particularly so after two doses.

Protection against death was also expected to be high but further work was underway to provide concrete evidence.

People are being encouraged to book their coronavirus vaccine jab when offered by the NHS.

What has Public Health Dorset said?

In the latest update, a spokesman said: “As cases start to increase, this is a reminder that we are still living with COVID-19 and we must continue to protect ourselves and each other.

“Please keep playing your part by following the hands, face, space rules and remembering the importance of fresh air by meeting others outdoors wherever possible and keeping windows and doors open when you are meeting indoors.

“Book your vaccination appointments when it's your turn and make sure you get both doses.

“Continue to take part in regular rapid testing, and stay vigilant for any symptoms of COVID-19.

“Even if they are mild, book a PCR test and self-isolate whilst you wait for the result.”