South-west England is recording its highest rate of new Covid-19 cases since comparable figures began in summer 2020, when mass testing was first introduced across the UK, new analysis shows.
A total of 32,815 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in the region in the seven days to October 15 – the equivalent of 579.9 per 100,000 people.
This is up from 16,910 cases, or 298.8 per 100,000, in the previous seven days.
The sharp rise comes after an estimated 43,000 people were discovered to have likely received an incorrect negative PCR Covid test result, following “technical issues” at a laboratory in Wolverhampton.
A negative PCR test means people will not have needed to isolate and could have potentially spread the virus to many others.
The errors affected test results given to people between September 8 and October 12 mainly in south-west England, along with some people in the south-east and Wales.
Case rates are now rising in all but one local authority in south-west England, with many areas recording steep increases in recent days, according to PA news agency analysis of Government data.
In Bath & North East Somerset, the rate has risen from 260.7 per 100,000 in the week to October 8 to 877.5 in the week to October 15: the highest for any local authority in the UK.
Somerset West & Taunton currently has the second highest rate in the UK, up from 365.5 to 872.5.
Other areas in the region recording sharp increases include Stroud (from 143.1 to 782.4), Cheltenham (138.7 to 773.9) and Tewkesbury (95.2 to 691.3).
The only local authority in south-west England not recording a rise in the latest figures is Exeter, where the rate has dropped slightly from 339.0 to 313.5.
NHS Test and Trace last week suspended testing operations provided by Immensa Health Clinic Ltd at its laboratory in Wolverhampton and an investigation is being carried out.
There are no technical issues with test kits themselves and people should continue to test as normal, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) said.
Test and Trace has been contacting people who could still be infectious to advise them to take another test, while close contacts who are symptomatic will also be advised to take a test.
Dr Will Welfare, public health incident director at the HSA, said: “We are working with NHS Test and Trace and the company to determine the laboratory technical issues which have led to inaccurate PCR results being issued to people. We have immediately suspended testing at this laboratory while we continue the investigation.”
South-west England now has the highest rate of new cases of any region in England, though all regions are currently recording an increase in rates, following the latest resurgence of the third wave of the virus.
The East Midlands has the second highest regional rate at 515.3, up week-on-week from 483.8, followed by Yorkshire and the Humber at 491.4, up from 441.5.
London has the lowest rate at 248.3, up from 215.0.
Rates are rising in nearly nine in 10 (89%) local authority areas in England.
Elsewhere in the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland are seeing rates climbing steadily, while a recent fall in rates in Scotland appears to have levelled off.
The overall seven-day rate for the UK currently stands at 445.5 cases per 100,000 people: the highest since July 21, but some way below the 638.8 recorded at the peak of the second wave on January 4.
The steep rise in new cases in south-west England is also starting to impact hospital numbers in the region.
A total of 549 people with Covid-19 were in hospital in the south-west as of October 19, according to NHS England: up 22% week-on-week and the highest total since February 26.
This is less than a quarter of the 2,366 people who were in hospital in the region at the peak of the second wave, however.
Across the UK as a whole, 7,749 patients with Covid-19 were in hospital on October 18: up 10% week-on-week and the highest number since September 20.
Nearly 40,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospital at the peak of the second wave in January.