The NHS test and trace system has reached the lowest proportion of contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England.
Four in 10 close contacts of people who tested positive are still not being reached by the system, at the same time as it recorded its highest weekly number of positive cases.
A total of 137,180 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to 28 October, an increase of 8% on the previous week and the highest weekly number since test and trace was launched at the end of May.
According to the latest figures, 59.9% of close contacts of people who tested positive in England were reached through the system in the week ending 28 October. This is the lowest since test and trace began and is down from 60.6% for the previous week.
For cases managed by local health protection teams, 97.9% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to 28 October. For cases managed online or by call centres, the figure was 58.5%.
Just 26.4% of people who were tested in England in the week ending 28 October at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called in-person test – received their result within 24 hours. This is up from 22.6% in the previous week.
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 that 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”.
Of the 139,781 people transferred to the system in the week to 28 October, 82.7% were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts – down slightly on 83.2% in the previous week.
Some 14.9% of people transferred to test and trace in the week to 28 October were not reached, while a further 2.3% did not provide any communication details.
Only 3.5% of people in England who used a home test kit received their result within 24 hours in the week to 28 October, the same percentage as the previous week. Some 36.5% of people received the result of a home test within 48 hours, up from 24.9% in the previous week.
Before the figures were published, the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said the month-long lockdown that began in England on Thursday would be used to “redouble our efforts” to expand the test and trace programme. He told BBC Breakfast it was also vital to increase the speed at which test results were returned.
“Lots of people are receiving them the next day which is good, but there are still too many people who are having to wait for days and we are going to continue to work to speed that up,” Buckland said.
“We’ve got to use this time not only to deal with test and trace but also to prepare for when we get a vaccine.”
He said any future vaccination programme would prioritise those in greatest need “so we can avoid a stop-and-start scenario, where we’re having to go in and out of lockdowns”.
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said it is “hugely concerning” that the system is “going backwards” in the number of close contacts reached.
“If we are to prevent this second wave from escalating further, we need the system to meet the recommended 80% benchmark if it is to have any chance of success.
“Councils across the country have now launched their own locally supported contact tracing arrangements, to complement the national system, but continue to need clearer, more precise information on who they should be trying to contact as soon as possible.
“This should include details such as occupation and workplace, working with police and others to share local intelligence, alongside the right resources including funding and recruiting extra personnel to work on the ground and respond quickly to outbreaks,” he said.