The figures showed a drop to 59.6 per cent, from 63 per cent in the previous week, in the proportion of close contacts of people testing positive who were reached – the worst weekly figure on record.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “These figures provide yet more evidence that the Test and Trace system – a key part of the effort to monitor and curb Covid-19 – is falling short.

She said the figures on turnaround times were “particularly disturbing”, adding that the failure to reach more than 100,000 close contacts of positive cases was even more worrying. 

The data shows the positivity rate – the proportion of all tests returning a positive result – has climbed to 7.1 per cent for the week, the highest since Test and Trace began. According to criteria published by the World Health Organisation, a positivity rate of less than five per cent is one indicator that the epidemic is under control in a country.

A total of 101,494 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to October 14, a rise of 12 per cent in positive cases on the previous week.

Baroness Dido Harding, the interim executive chairman of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “Reducing turnaround times is our absolute priority to make sure we are reaching people as soon as possible.

“We always need to balance ensuring as many people as possible can get a test alongside ensuring test results are delivered as quickly as possible, and as capacity continues to grow at pace, we expect to see improvements.”

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