The data is clear: cases across the UK are increasing once again at an alarming rate.

On Thursday, spurred on by the delta variant and the gradual easing of restrictions, daily reported cases crossed the 10,000 mark for the first time since February.

The rise in cases prompted the Government to delay easing social distancing restrictions until July 19. And on Saturday, scientists advising the Government were again painting a gloomy picture.

"It’s going up, perhaps we can be a little bit optimistic it’s not going up any faster, but nevertheless it’s going up, so this third wave is definitely under way," Professor Adam Finn, who advises the Government on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

But whilst some analysis suggests a “mini wave” with the potential for a flattening in the coming weeks, the Government’s main focus will be what is happening in our hospitals.

Currently, the data suggests that hospitalisations are not increasing with the same speed as they were in the previous, second wave.

In the North West, which is currently at the centre of the outbreak due to the earlier arrival of the delta variant, hospital rates are currently a third of what they were at the same period during the second wave in September.

Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority

And whilst hospitals in the region have felt increased pressures in recent weeks, the proportion of beds occupied by patients with Covid currently stands at two per cent. For contrast, this was as high as six per cent by the end of September last year.

Across England as a whole, the picture is even more optimistic. As of June 15, under one per cent of wards patients have covid and in roughly a third of hospitals, there are no covid patients at all.

This is in part due to the fact that not every region has seen a spike in cases yet and with the transmission rate of delta variant estimated to be 60 per cent higher than the Kent variant – it is likely only a matter of time until rates do increase.

Perhaps this is why Dr Mike Tildesley, epidemiologist and a member of the SPI-M modelling group, was more optimistic on his broadcast round on Saturday.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We are now in a situation where if we sort of wind back a month ago we were starting to see signs of cases creeping up, and they have been creeping steadily for the last four weeks, but we haven’t yet seen that reflected in hospital admissions and deaths, which makes me sort of cautiously optimistic about the situation.

"Hospital admissions are starting to rise a little bit, and of course there’s always a lag when cases rise that we see any signal in hospital admissions, but of course the vaccination campaign is doing very, very well, and so we’re not in the same situation we were back in October when cases were rising, we then got a big wave of hospital admissions and deaths.

"There’s still a little bit of work to do for us over the next couple of weeks to really firm up the link between cases and hospital admissions, but I’m, I suppose at the moment, cautiously hopeful that whilst we probably will expect some sort of wave of hospital admissions over the next few weeks, it won’t be the same scale that we saw back in January."

How modelled data underestimated the effect of vaccines

Meanwhile the data also reveals real evidence that the vaccine is making considerable progress in slowing the case rate amongst older people and breaking the link between hospitalisations and cases.

In the North West, the most vulnerable age group – those aged over 90 – has a case rate of 29 per 100,000 people. This is almost a fifth of where that age group was at the same point in September. This has clearly led to a dramatic change in who ends up in hospital.

Currently, those aged 65 to 84 are just as likely to end up in hospital as working-age adults. In September, that same older group was almost five times more likely to be in hospital.

But there are some caveats – and signs which could cause concern for those scouring the data.

Firstly, the very vulnerable age groups – those aged over 85 – are still ending up in hospital at four times the rate as younger people; a figure which is increasing.

This is evidence that the vaccine doesn’t offer total immunity to the virus – as widely reported in PHE studies – and that if cases are allowed to continue rising, it is more likely that the virus will slip to a small minority of people.

Secondly, critical care beds in some of the hotspots have seen pressures not necessarily seen in the wards. For example, in Bolton’s main NHS trust over 70 per cent of patients in critical care have the virus.

But it is also Bolton which will offer the most hope to people going through the numbers. Their “third wave” of cases appears to be over. Having been the epicentre of the delta outbreak, their cases rose to similar levels seen in January.

However, in the wards, their hospital cases only rose to a quarter of the level it did in the same period. In total, just six per cent of all patients in late-May before hospital cases began to stabilise.

With cases now declining in neighbouring Blackburn with Darwen, the data arriving in the next couple of weeks might help to further ease the minds of those planning the country’s route out of lockdown.