The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England has fallen week on week for the first time since the summer.
A total of 152,660 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to November 18, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.
This is the first time since mid-August that the number has fallen week on week – down 9% on the previous week’s total of 168,250.
But four in 10 close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus are still not being reached by the programme.
Some 60.3% of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the system in the week ending November 18.
This is down slightly from 60.7% in the previous week, and is also just above the all-time low of 60.1% for the week to October 14.
For cases managed by local health protection teams, 99.0% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to November 18.
For cases managed either online or by call centres, 58.8% of close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate.
Baroness Dido Harding, who leads the NHS Test and Trace programme, was asked if she thinks the system will ever hit the target of reaching 80% of close contacts.
Answering the question in a discussion with Health Service Journal (HSJ) editor Alastair McLellan, she said “yes”, adding that it is a “useful target”.
She said she would not give an exact date, but that “really good progress” is being made.
Asked if she thinks she owes the NHS an apology for any “reputational damage” that Test and Trace may have caused, she said: “I think that one of the challenges for the thousands of people who are doing a really brilliant job in the NHS, in other parts of the public sector and the private sector, on NHS Test and Trace, is that everyone rather wishes we were a silver bullet that would just solve the Covid crisis single-handedly, which sadly was never going to be the case.”
She said that, rather than apologising, she wants to say thank you for the “extraordinary” support and help that NHS colleagues have brought to the overall fight against Covid-19.
Baroness Harding added: “I think that this is a service (Test and Trace) that has stood up at extraordinary speed.
“Forgive the private sector analogy, but we’ve built something together that is the same size as Asda in six months.
“And what we’ve done is we’ve protected our most vulnerable.
“We are objectively ensuring that care homes are safer, that patients coming into the NHS are safer, that our staff working in the NHS are safer.
“And so, far from apologising, I’d like to say thank you to the NHS staff for making that happen.”
Baroness Harding explaining how the routine testing programme is expanding across different elements of the care system, including domiciliary care, and into food manufacturing. More details on this here from the Winter Plan: https://t.co/40GlawiSjl pic.twitter.com/8CA4ivhFAo
— HealthServiceJournal (@HSJnews) November 26, 2020
Meanwhile, the latest Test and Trace figures show that a total of 50.6% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending November 18 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 38.0% in the previous week.
Prime Minister 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 June 3 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 156,574 people transferred to the Test and Trace system in the week to November 18, 84.9% were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts.
This is down slightly from 85.9% in the previous week, which was the highest weekly percentage since Test and Trace began.
Some 13.6% of people transferred to Test and Trace in the week to November 18 were not reached, while a further 1.5% did not provide any communication details.