Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Coronavirus: Infection rate in England up by almost a third in one week

The number of positive tests has been rising since July

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 20 August 2020 15:35 BST
Coronavirus: Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in England

The number of coronavirus infections identified by the national test and trace service has increased by almost a third in a week, new statistics show.

According to new data published today, 6,616 new people tested positive for Covid-19 in the week to 12 August, an increase of 27 per cent compared to the week before.

This increase comes despite a 2 per cent drop in the number of people being tested.

Positive pillar 1 tests – those carried out in NHS labs – jumped 34 per cent in a week, the first notable rise in NHS-run labs since test and trace was launched. Pillar 2 tests are those carried out in the community, such as at care homes or drive-in sites.

Officials say that while testing is being targeted at hotspot areas where more people may test positive, the data shows a general creeping up of infection rates across the country since July.

While the numbers testing positive are rising the NHS has so far not seen a significant impact in terms of patients being admitted or dying.

The Office for National Statistics said this week that it believed infections were levelling off after its community based study of households showed no significant rise.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “The fact that positive diagnoses have risen at a time when the number of tests are remaining fairly static does suggest that the incidence of Covid-19 in the community is now beginning to rise again. The additional sharp rise in pillar 1 tests being positive in particular supports this assumption. Because pillar 1 tests are done in NHS facilities they are more likely driven by clinical need than are pillar 2 tests and are a somewhat better indicator of the number of people becoming ill enough to seek medical attention.

“Clearly if this trend continues the demands on the test, track and trace service and on the NHS will increase over coming weeks.”

Across parts of England, cases have been rising in some areas such as Oldham in recent weeks, putting it at risk of a Leicester-style lockdown.

A spike in cases in Birmingham has also prompted concerns the city could face restrictions if numbers keep increasing.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, was in Birmingham on Thursday morning to chair a so-called gold command meeting to discuss the city’s rising infection rates, while earlier this week the leader of Oldham council admitted there was a “very real threat” of new restrictions.

Cases of coronavirus are also rising in Scotland where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the country had seen the highest number of daily coronavirus cases in almost three months.

Speaking during the Scottish government’s daily briefing, she said 19,534 people had tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up by 77 from 19,457 the day before.

No new coronavirus deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours, she said.

In England, a further five people who tested positive for the coronavirus died in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths in hospitals in England to 29,485.

In the week to 12 August, 4,803 people who tested positive were transferred to the contract tracing system, of which 79 per cent were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts.

A total of 16,897 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive and of those, 71 per cent were reached and asked to self-isolate.

Of these close contacts, 10,960 were handled by the centralised test and trace service and only 6,434 were reached, a performance which means 41 per cent of contacts were not reached.

Around 2,000 people were not reached because there were no contact details for them available.

Between 6 August and 12 August, 5,937 complex cases handled by public health teams locally were identified of which 5,619, 95 per cent, were reached and asked to self-isolate.

Less than two-thirds of people who were tested for Covid-19 in the latest week at a regional site or mobile testing unit received their result within 24 hours.

This is down from 70 per cent in the previous week and 93 per cent at the beginning of July.

Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

He told the House of Commons on 3 June he would get “all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that”.

But some experts say the measures used to determine local lockdowns, which have been set as 50 cases per 100,000 population, are not sustainable.

Professor Carl Heneghan, from the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, argued in a blog post that a new approach was needed.

He said cases were now falling in Oldham and there were only nine patients in hospital across the area.

“We consider the ‘red alert’ bracket line definition of 50 per 100,000 of cases in the population … does not support a sustainable long-term strategy and is not based on sound evidence.

“Disease measures such as Covid hospital admissions and beds occupied in those with active Covid infection (ie in the last 28 days), or symptomatic cases detected, should be the main driver for lockdown measures.”

According to the latest statistics a total of 57,457 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England have had their cases transferred to the test and trace contact tracing system since its launch at the end of May.

In total, 45,037 were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts, while 10,827 were not reached.

A further 1,593 could not be reached because their communication details had not been provided.

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in