Coronavirus transmission is no longer growing in the UK after weeks of heightened measures, with scientists estimating the R rate is now likely below 1.0.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said on Friday that the estimated R number for the UK is now between 0.9 and 1.0.
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The figure indicates that toughened restrictions across the UK and lockdowns in England and Wales have helped to tackle transmission of the virus, which had been growing previously.
An R rate below 1.0 means that each person with the virus is on average passing it on to less than one other, which leads to a decrease in cases over time. The number of cases could currently be contracting by as much as 2 per cent per day, the figures suggest.
It is the first time since August that R has been recorded as below 1.0, after months of spiralling cases. The figures show a week-on-week improvement, with the R number last week estimated to be between 1.0 and 1.1.
R rate is key
Keeping the R number to below 1.0 is a key target in the Government’s strategy to control the virus, though other factors such as deaths and hospital capacity are also taken into consideration when deciding whether to impose or relax restrictions.
Regional figures for England show the situation is improving across much of the country, with R in the North West estimated to be 0.7 to 0.9, while in the North East and Yorkshire it is estimated as 0.8 to 1.0.
However, parts of the country are still seeing a growth in cases despite lockdown measures. The R in London is estimated as between 1.0 and 1.1, while in the South East it is 1.0 to 1.2, meaning cases are likely to continue rising there.
R is between 0.9 and 1.1 in Northern Ireland and between 0.8 and 1.0 in both Scotland and Wales.
Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said the number may decrease further as the full impact of lockdown becomes apparent. “These data do raise the question of whether the earlier implementation of measures short of full lockdown would have been sufficient to keep the epidemic in check and prevent local NHS Trusts from being overwhelmed,” he said.
Sage said: “These estimates represent the transmission of Covid-19 over the past few weeks due to the time delay between someone being infected, having symptoms and needing healthcare.
“Estimates for R and growth rates are shown as a range, and the true values are likely to lie within this range.”
The body warned that “given the increasingly localised approach to managing the epidemic, particularly between nations, UK level estimates are less meaningful than previously.”
Little headroom for relaxation
Boris Johnson said earlier this week his tiered local lockdown plan, due to come into effect in England from 2 December, is intended to keep the R number below 1.0 in the run up to Christmas – though the latest figures suggest there is little headroom for relaxation without a rise in cases.
The Prime Minister faces a Commons showdown with his own MPs next week amid spreading anger on the Conservative benches over the latest system of tiered local controls.
More than one per cent of the population in England are thought to currently have coronavirus. Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday estimated there are 633,000 people in private households in England with Covid-19 between November 15 and 21, which is around one in 85 people.
However, the ONS said that “in recent weeks the positivity rate in England has shown signs of levelling”.
Infections are only growing among secondary school-age children, the ONS figures suggest, with cases decreasing in adults aged 35 years and over and levelling off among other age groups.
Meanwhile, Sage papers show the government’s experts believe coronavirus cases may double over Christmas and that more deaths are “highly likely”. The scientists warn that relaxing the rules for five days from December 23-27 “will result in increased transmission and increased prevalence, potentially by a large amount”. A fixed bubble system, as the government has created, would reduce the risk but not eliminate it, they said.
— to inews.co.uk