Positive COVID-19 cases up 75% in a week as test and trace misses targets

Andy Wells
A driver hands in a swab test to soldiers helping at a pop-up covid19 drive-through testing centre in Dalston, Hackney, east London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Picture date: Saturday May 2, 2020.
A driver hands in a swab test to soldiers helping at a pop-up COVID-19 drive-through testing centre in Dalston, Hackney. (PA)

There has been a 75% rise on positive coronavirus cases in England in just one week, newly-released figures show.

A total of 18,371 new people tested positive for COVID-19 in England in the week to 9 September, according to the latest test and trace figures.

This is a huge increase from the 9,864 figure in the previous week, ending 2 September – and the highest weekly number since test and trace was launched at the end of May.

The figures, released by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), also show that testing numbers increased by 27% in the most recent week compared to the previous week.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: A worker wearing an NHS Test and Trace tabard waits to deal with members of the public at a Covid Test site in South London on September 15, 2020 in Greater London England. The site saw a steady stream of drive in traffic, but only a small handful of walk-ins over the course of the first hour of opening. The Department Of Health has appealed to Britain's biomedical sector for 400 further laboratory technicians as the nation's return to school increases demand for Covid-19 tests. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
A worker wearing an NHS test and trace tabard waits to deal with members of the public at a COVID test site in south London. (Getty)

In total, 15,526 people were referred to the test and trace system in the most recent week – a 74% from the week before.

The figures show that over three times as many people have been referred since the beginning of August.

It was revealed that 61,790 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus between 3 September and 9 September.

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Tracers managed to reach 73.9% of contacts of people who tested positive to tell them to self-isolate – an increase of 69.2% from the previous week.

It still means nearly 30% of close contacts were not reached by tracers.

The figures come after it was revealed that nearly 4,000 people tested positive in one day – the highest daily increase since the beginning of May.

Watch: What are the complications linked to coronavirus?

Health secretary Matt Hancock admitted on Tuesday that there were problems with the testing system following a “sharp rise” in people seeking tests.

Hancock said it would take a “matter of weeks” to resolve the issues, while the government is updating its policy on testing so that the most urgent cases are given priority.

On Thursday, he told MPs in the Commons that tests were available, adding: “What I can assure him is that we’re working as hard as we possibly can to fix the problem. Tests are available even though it’s a challenge to get hold of them.”

Hancock also insisted that capacity was “at record levels”, adding: “Of course there’s a challenge in testing. The central point… is that capacity, contrary to what he said, capacity is at record levels and has increased week-on-week.

“The challenge is that demand has gone up faster. And they say on the other side ‘no it’s not’ but they can’t defy the facts.

“And the most important thing for anybody across the country to hear from all their elected representatives is if they are interested in helping this country get through this pandemic is that if you have symptoms, get a test, if you don’t have symptoms please do not come forward to get a test unless you’re specifically asked.

“That is what colleagues on all sides of the House need to be repeating to their constituents.”

File photo dated 30/7/2020 of Health Secretary Matt Hancock who is set to announce the future of public health in England. Hancock is due to deliver a speech at the think tank Policy Exchange titled The Future of Public Health. It comes amid reports that Public Health England (PHE) is to be axed.
Health secretary Matt Hancock admitted there were issues with coronavirus testing. (PA)

But shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth responded by saying the government “has failed” to deliver effective testing and tracing.

He added: “When testing breaks down case-finding breaks down, isolation breaks down and we lose control of this virus.”

Local shortages have been reported due to the demand, while some people are still being told to drive hundreds of miles to get a test.

As cases of coronavirus continue to rise, a government adviser has warned that stricter lockdown restrictions may have to be introduced if we lose the ability to track the coronavirus outbreak due to testing failures.

Dr Adam Kucharski, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the lack of tests could mean more severe restrictions have to be brought in to control the spread of COVID-19 in the UK.

“I think we are getting to the point where potentially we are losing our ability to accurately track the virus,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

People queue up outside a walk through coronavirus testing centre on Marlborough Road in Southampton. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
People queue up outside a walk through coronavirus testing centre on Marlborough Road in Southampton. (Getty)

“That means that we could have a situation where it is getting into risk groups, we start to see more cases appear, and we don’t have good warning of that.

“It also affects our ability to have more targeted, nuanced measures. If we lose the ability to track the virus it ends up that more blunt tools will be deployed. That is what we saw earlier in the year.”

Health minister Edward Argar on Thursday morning dismissed claims that Boris Johnson was advised to put the country into a two-week lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

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