LONDON (Reuters) - Less than three-quarters of close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases identified by England's test and trace system were reached in the latest weekly figures, Britain's health ministry said on Thursday, a fall in the proportion of contacts reached.
In the fourth week of England's test and trace scheme, the ministry said that 23,028 people were identified as close contacts of positive cases, with 16,804, or 73%, of that total reached.
That is down from 82.4% in the previous week.
The service is seen as key to identifying outbreaks of COVID-19 as England emerges from its countrywide lockdown, and informing the need for possible future local shutdowns.
Earlier this week, a stringent lockdown was reimposed in the central English city of Leicester due to a flare-up of the novel coronavirus, as the rest of the country prepared for further easing of restrictions on Saturday.
The health ministry also published testing turnaround times for the first time on Thursday after pressure on the government to process results more quickly.
By the June 24, 96.7% of tests at mobile sites, and 98% of tests at regional test centres were returned the day after the tests were taken, the department said.
"We have seen significant improvements in the time it takes to process test results, an important step to rapidly reach the contacts of those testing positive and ask them to self-isolate to prevent them spreading the virus further," said Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Michael Holden)