Thursday 19 November 2020 1:28 pm

Covid cases in England spike as rapid testing picks up pace

Coronavirus cases in England hiked 11 per cent in England last week, NHS Test and Trace said today, as the government rolled out rapid Covid tests across the country.

Test and Trace reported 167,369 confirmed coronavirus cases between 5 November and 11 November, up 11 per cent on the previous week.

London saw an average of 2,534 new cases in the week to 11 November, up 21 per cent on the previous week.

However, coronavirus-related deaths in the capital have dropped over the past few weeks, and remain at around a third of the level seen at the peak of the first wave.

Data released this week by the Office for National Statistics showed 952 deaths registered in London in the week ending 6 November, the same number as would be predicted based on the average for the past five years.

It comes after the government last week rolled out rapid Covid testing centres across England as part of plans to ramp up asymptomatic testing.

Lateral flow tests, which have a turnaround time of as little as 15 minutes, are now operating in 25 out of London’s 32 boroughs, as well as cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

The Prime Minister, who earlier this week tested negative for coronavirus after using one of the rapid tests, has said lateral flow testing is key to England’s lockdown exit strategy. 

But critics have been quick to point out that an effective contact tracing app is as important as rapid tests for any hopes to restore the country to normality. 

Of the 313,771 people found by the NHS Test and Trace app to have come into close contact with positive cases in the week to 11 November, 60.5 per cent were reached — close to the record low of 59.6 per cent achieved last month.

Pascale Robinson of the anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It said: “The privatised national test, track and trace system is failing on all counts.

“It’s not identifying people’s close contacts or asking them to isolate quickly enough and it’s putting us all at risk.”

But the PM’s official spokesperson today reinstated ministers’ commitment to the app, saying: “We believe the achievements of Test and Trace since the beginning of the pandemic have been colossal. We’re testing more people per head of population than any other European country.”

It comes after NHS Test and Trace boss Baroness Dido Harding was last week grilled by a Commons committee over the app’s low success rate. 

Health and social care committee chair Jeremy Hunt pressured Harding to explain why only “three per cent of the total theoretical maximum” of people infected with coronavirus were self-isolating.

Harding stressed that the contact tracing programme, which has cost the Treasury upwards of £12bn so far this year, was largely dependent on having a fully operational testing system, adding that Hunt was being “slightly pessimistic”.