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.
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.
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.
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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.”
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.
“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.