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UK R rate drops slightly, but coronavirus remains in 'widespread growth'

Emily Cleary
·4 min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reacts during his visit to Royal Berkshire NHS Hospital in Reading, west of London on October 26, 2020, to mark the publication of a new review into hospital food. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JEREMY SELWYN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson - who wore a face covering while visiting a Berkshire hospital this week - has resisted calls for a second nationwide lockdown, saying his three-tier approach is the best way to support the economy while attempting to slow rates of infection (Jeremy Selwyn/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK’s rate of coronavirus infection has dropped to between 1.1 and 1.3, but the virus is still spreading at an ‘epidemic’ speed.

Last Friday the R rate for the UK was 1.2 to 1.4 for the UK, with a growth rate range of 3% to 6. This week’s growth rate is 2% to 4%.

Experts on the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) publish the latest figures every Friday, and have said the latest data still represents “widespread growth” of transmissions across the country.

A man stands next to a sign promoting the use of protective face mask in Manchester, as the city and surrounding areas face local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the region, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manchester, Britain August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire are already in Tier 3, with Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire also moving up due to high risk of infections (REUTERS/Phil Noble)

A spokesman for SAGE said: “This week’s estimates are reliable, and there is still widespread growth of the epidemic across the country.”

The R rate represents the rate of spread of COVID-19 across the country. An R number between 1.1 and 1.3 means that on average every 10 people infected will infect between 11 and 13 other people.

The latest data came as West Yorkshire prepared to be moved up into Tier 3 - very high risk of infection - by Monday, and large swathes of the north and the Midlands planned for their escalation from Tier 1 - medium - to Tier 2 - high.

In Tier 3 areas households must not mix indoors or in private gardens and people may only meet in groups of up to six in public outdoor settings like a park.

Pubs and bars which don’t serve meals must close and people are advised not to leave the area and generally stay at home as much as possible.

R rate ranges in England by area as of 30 October (gov.uk)
R rate ranges in England by area as of 30 October (gov.uk)

In Tier 2 different households can only meet outside.

Wales is about to enter the second week of a circuit-breaker national lockdown, an effort by the Welsh Assembly to curb the reproduction rate of infection in the country.

France has entered its second nationwide lockdown and Germany will follow suit for the month of November.

England has around 51,900 new coronavirus cases per day, Office for National Statistics figures showed on Friday, prompting chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to post on Twitter: "Over 50,000 new infections a day, and it is rising in almost every region of England.

"Deaths and pressure on the NHS are increasing. We all have a role in reducing the risk of passing the virus on."

The ONS infection survey, published Friday morning suggested there were an estimated 568,100 people in England with COVID-19 between October 17 and 23 - the latest dates for which data is available - equating to around one in 100 people.

However, the government is resisting calls to follow the strategies of its neighbouring countries with a nationwide lockdown and has committed to sticking to its regional whack-a-mole lockdown strategy.

Watch: What is the coronavirus R0 reproduction rate?

Friday’s 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, so cannot be a 100% accurate reflection of the situation for the date published.

Estimates for R and growth rates are shown as a range - the true values are likely to lie within this range.

If R is greater than one then the epidemic is growing, if R is less than one the epidemic is shrinking. The higher R is above 1, the more people one infected person infects and so the faster the epidemic grows.

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