The coronavirus 'is not out of control' in Britain, Matt Hancock has claimed amid scientists warning the Government has lost its grip on spread of the disease.
Yesterday the UK recorded its highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since May after 2,988 were reported in just 24 hours.
The last time the UK's caseload was this high was May 23 - 15 weeks ago - when 2,959 people tested positive.
Scientists said it's beginning to look like the UK is 'moving into a period of exponential growth', and if that is the case, 'we can expect further increases over coming weeks'.
But Health Secretary Mr Hancock tempered fears today and said cases were not out of control, while admitting cases were 'concerning' because 'nobody wants a second wave'.
He said most cases were being driven by under 25s in 'affluent areas', while pleading with them to continue social distancing to avoid passing the virus onto their grandparents.
Scientists have previously said cases have risen over August as a result of increased testing in hotspots. The more testing is done, the more cases are found.
But the data suggests more people are actually catching the coronavirus - the number of people who receive a 'positive' result after getting tested has gone up by 50 per cent in six weeks - from 1.4 per cent in mid-July to 2.3 per cent now.
Labour's shadow health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth called the spike in cases 'deeply concerning and worrying' and suggests there is a real increase in the prevalence of the coronavirus.
He also demanded Mr Hancock give an urgent statement to the House of Commons to explain the testing 'fiasco' in which some people are still being told by the NHS test booking site to drive hundreds of miles to get a test.
The UK recorded its highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since May after 2,988 were reported in just 24 hours
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the uptick in cases in the past few days have been in younger people under 25, 'especially 17 to 21 year olds'. Pictured is the raw data for new cases in each age bracket over August, showing females aged 20 to 30 make up the majority of cases
Scientists have previously said cases have risen over August as a result of increased testing (pictured, how testing has risen during the pandemic)
But the number of people who receive a 'positive' result after getting tested under Pillar 2 has increased in recent weeks (blue line) to 2.3 per cent. It's also increased under Pillar 2 (red line), but is nowhere near the levels seen at the height of the pandemic
The graph shows how new Covid-19 cases are rising in the UK, but the 'positivity rate' is dramatically lower now compared to the height of the pandemic, when it was more than 20 per cent overall
The escalating Covid-19 cases in the UK follows the same trends in France and Spain, and the releasing of several lockdown restrictions.
Speaking on LBC radio this morning, Mr Hancock said: 'This rise in case we have seen in the last few days is concerning, and it’s concerning because we have seen a rise in cases in France, Spain and some other countries in Europe.
'Nobody wants to see a second wave here. It just reinforces the point that people must follow the social distancing rules, they are so important.'
Asked by presenter Nick Ferrari if the UK had 'lost control', as suggested by some experts, Mr Hancock said: 'No, but the whole country needs to follow social distancing.
'We certainly see cases where they are not, then we take action.
If more people are being tested for Covid-19, this will show up in cases data, experts say. On the surface, it may look like a spike in infections, but broadly is not something to worry about because it just means more people are being diagnosed than before, when testing was limited to those in hospital.
Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, said: 'In the early stages of the pandemic, there was far less availability of testing in most countries than there now is. So one reason there are more cases is just that people have got better at looking for and finding them.'
And Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at University of Bath, said: Test more people, you will find more positives.
'Initially, testing was restricted to those reporting symptoms, but this has eased and it's now possible for a wider range of people to request tests.'
Testing capacity has rapidly increased over the course of the pandemic in order to reach more people. And this has caused a slight increase in the number of people getting a positive result - but not to levels that suggest prevalence of the virus is soaring.
A significantly higher number of people are being tested since July - when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows.
Some 442,392 people were tested between 13 August and 19 August - an almost 20 per cent increase on the 355,597 tested between July 9 and 15.
However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period. This shows there no that many more people testing positive compared to negative in August than in July.
Other data from Public Health England reveals a similar trend over the course of the pandemic.
Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July.
During the same period, positive test results in Pillar 2 - which are those outside of hospitals and care homes - went drastically down from a peak of 5.2 per cent in May to 1.4 per cent in mid-July, showing that less people were testing positive for the coronavirus despite testing reaching thousands more people.
This figure has risen slightly over this month from 1.6 per cent to 2.1 per cent in the week ending August 23. But it's a small increase when comparing with the 5 per cent seen in May. Testing has shot up to almost 200,000 per day this month.
Commenting on these figures, Dr Duncan Young, a professor of intensive care medicine at University of Oxford, told MailOnline: 'It is therefore very possible that the increase in cases is mostly related to increased testing, but will a small additional effect from the increased prevalence.'
Despite this, it doesn't necessarily rule out that transmission of the disease is, indeed, climbing.
Scientists admit that the evident rise in cases will be driven by more transmission in the community as a result of easing lockdown restrictions.
'But the position isn’t like it was back in March and April,' Professor McConway said.
'The level of cases [in the UK] remains a very long way below what it was at the peak of the pandemic here in March and April.
'For example in Bolton where numbers are the highest, we traced a lot of those cases back to an individual pub and we have taken action on those pub. The pub needed to close and sort the problem out.'
Mr Hancock said the most important point to get across was that the uptick in cases in the past few days have been in younger people under 25, 'especially 17 to 21 year olds'.
Data from Public Health England shows 21.9 people per 100,000 aged 15 to 44 got diagnosed with Covid-19 in the week to August 30. It's more than four times the rate in those aged between 65 and 85 years old.
It's a vastly different picture compared to mid-April, when some 200 over 85s per 100,000 had were diagnosed with the virus compared to less than 50 in the 15-44 age group.
Mr Hancock said: 'The message to all your younger listeners [on LBC] and everybody is that even though you are at a lower risk of dying from the coronavirus, if you’re that age, if you’re under 25, you can still have really serious symptoms and consequences.
'And Long Covid, where people six months on are still ill, is prevalent among that population. Also, you can infect other people.
'And this argument that some people come out with, saying "you don’t need to worry about a rise in cases because it’s younger people and they don’t die".
'Firstly, they can get very very ill. And secondly, inevitably it leads to older people catching it from them. So don’t infect your grandparents.'
There has been speculation that most new cases are found among poorer communities, where there is overcrowding in housing and people in key worker jobs, for example.
Professor Gabriel Scally, a former NHS regional director of public health for the South West, claimed the virus is now 'endemic in our poorest communities'.
However, Mr Hancock said it was currently more frequent in 'affluent areas', after various health chiefs have noted spread is predominantly happening when people socially mix in other people's homes.
He said: 'Over the summer we had particular problems in some of the areas that are most deprived. Actually, the recent increase we’ve seen over the last few days is more broadly spread and is not concentrated in poorer areas.
'It’s actually amongst more affluent younger people especially that we’ve seen the rise.
'And that is where people really need to hear this message and abide by it - which is that everybody has a responsibility for social distancing to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe.'
As Government data has shown a rising number of cases in recent weeks, scientists have suggested it comes down to more testing in England's hardest hit locations, particularly in the north-west.
The vast majority of new cases were missed at the height of the UK outbreak because testing was limited to hospitals, whereas now anyone is able to get a test.
Last week scientists said if more people are tested, there will inevitably be more cases detected, which on the surface suggests the coronavirus is spreading more, even if that is not the case.
However now, data suggests a higher number of people are, in fact, getting infected. Of those people being tested, a higher proportion are getting a positive result - called the test positivity rate.
In the week to August 30, 2.3 per cent of people under Pillar 2, which is anywhere outside hospitals and care homes, who had a coronavirus test got a positive result - the highest since June 21 and a 0.2 per cent increase on the week prior.
It hit a record low in the week to July 19, when 1.4 per cent tested positive, and has been rising steadily since.
It's nowhere near the 5.2 per cent reported in May - when records of 'test positivity' began - but represents an increase of 50 per cent in six weeks.
The data, from Public Health England,