UK's coronavirus R rate could be 'getting close to 1', says expert – as cases stop falling

CORONAVIRUS cases have stopped falling – suggesting the crucial R rate could be getting close to 1, an expert has warned.

The Covid-19 reproduction number has at 0.7 to 0.9 across the UK for the last fortnight.

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But statistics show that while fewer people are catching the deadly bug, the number of new cases have levelled off.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it suggests that the R rate – a way of determining the disease's ability to spread – could getting close to 1.

He said: "Certainly over the last week or two the number of new cases of Covid-19 reported each day seems to have stopped falling suggesting that the important R value may be getting close to 1.0, though again it is too early to be certain if this will become a trend."

'Don't get excited'

His comments were in response to the UK's coronavirus death toll which rose by 11 – the lowest daily increase since the outbreak began.

Prof Hunter cautioned against getting "too excited" by the figures, which tend to be lower on a Monday due to a lag in data collected over the weekend.

He added: “When using a 7 day rolling mean to even out effects due to the day of the week, there has been a consistent decline in deaths since April.

"One the other hand the past week there does seem to have been a slowing in this relative rate of decline.

"Whether this is just temporary and the relative rate of decline increases again we will have to see over the next week or so."

 

 

The latest Government data on the R rate showed that it has remained stable across the UK, but had crept up between 0.8 and 1 in England.

It is above 1 in the South West at between 0.7 to 1.1, while the South East is in the range of 0.7 to 1.0.

East Anglia and the North West have also seen similar increases in their R value ranges – from 0.7 to 0.9 in the previous week to 0.7 to 1.

However, the value is down slightly in the Midlands – despite a local outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Leicester – to between 0.7 and 0.9.

The figures were published a week after pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were allowed to reopen.

True rate

Experts say the true R rate probably lies somewhere between the upper and lower estimates – and the epidemic is continuing to shrink.

The figure gives an indication of whether or not the Covid-19 outbreak is growing.

Above one, and it's a sign the epidemic is spreading, while below one indicates an outbreak in decline.

But critics of the R rate have pointed out it does not tell us how quickly an epidemic is changing.

That's why the Government introduced a new measure – the growth rate, which gives insight on the size and speed of change, whereas the R rate only gives information on the direction of change.

The growth rate is currently -5 to two per cent, according to Sage.

Neither measure is deemed better by the Government, but "each provide information that is useful in monitoring the spread of disease".

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One thing to note is that as the number of infections fall, the measures do become less useful.

Dr Yuliya Kyrychko, reader in mathematics at the University of Sussex, said: "The growth rates have remained largely the same, but we have to be careful here.

"As the number of confirmed cases becomes smaller, the estimates of the growth rate and the R number become more sensitive in a sense that even a relatively small local outbreak can have a major effect on increasing the R number."

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