Britain’s Covid-19 levels have risen to their highest in three months, after lockdown restrictions were relaxed to open large parts of the economy.
A total of 212,880 people gave positive test results at least once in the week to October 6, up 2 per cent on the previous week, the latest Test and Trace figures show.
It is the highest number since the week ending July 21, when the figure hit 309,476.
The Government said another 157 people died from Covid-19 as of Thursday, up from 122 the previous week and bringing the UK total to 138,237.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said winter was going to be “exceptionally difficult” for the National Health Service, with Covid infections, flu and a backlog of delayed operations contributing to the pressure.
“In terms of where Covid will go over the winter, well I think the winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS,” Prof Whitty said.
“That is, irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non-trivial amount of Covid, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter.”
Mid-July was the last time there was a major surge in Covid-19 cases in England.
The latest numbers are still well below the level reached during the second wave of the virus when Test and Trace figures peaked at 390,282 cases in the week to January 6.
Almost 10 per cent of people who were transferred to Test and Trace in England in the week to October 6 were not reached, meaning they were not able to provide details of recent close contacts.
Anyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19 is transferred to Test and Trace so their contacts can be identified and alerted.
Of 200,074 people transferred to Test and Trace in the most recent week, 19,311 were not reached.
The East Midlands has the highest rate, with 488.7 cases for every 100,000 people in the seven days to October 10, up from 450.
Yorkshire and the Humber has the second highest rate at 453.4, up from 409.0. London has the lowest at 214.2, up from 204.6.