‘Widespread growth’ of coronavirus epidemic as R rate remains as high as 1.5

A person wearing a protective mask walks past a covid warning sign as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Liverpool, Britain October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Liverpool became the first city to be graded as Tier 3 – Very High – this week due to the rapid increase in coronavirus infections in the city (REUTERS/Phil Noble)

The reproduction rate of coronavirus in the UK is 1.3 to 1.5, meaning there is still “widespread growth” across the country.

Last week the figure was given as 1.2 to 1.5.

Experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) published the latest figures on Friday.

A statement from SAGE said: “It is SAGE’s expert view… that this week’s estimates are reliable, and that there is still widespread growth of the epidemic across the country.

“SAGE is confident that the transmission is not slowing. There is no clear evidence that the epidemic’s trajectory has changed in the past month. 

Rate of coronavirus infection in England as of 16 October (gov.uk)
Rate of coronavirus infection in England as of 16 October (gov.uk)

“While the R value remains above 1.0, infections will continue to grow at an exponential rate. This is currently the case for every region of England and all have positive growth rates, reflecting increases in the number of new infections across the country.”

Watch: Coronavirus: what is the R0 reproduction rate?

The growth rate is between +4% and +7% meaning the number of new infections is growing by 4% to 7% every day, a slight decrease from 4% to 9% last week.

The data comes after a new three-tier system was introduced in England to classify areas according to COVID-19 infection risk.

The Liverpool City region became the first to enter the ‘very high’ Tier 3 band on Wednesday, with local leaders in Manchester becoming embroiled in a bitter battle with government to resist the city and surrounding areas also being upgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3.

In these areas the R rate has remained at a similar level to the previous week, but the figures for the south west of England are now the highest in the country, with an R rate of 1.3 to 1.6 and a growth rate of 6% to 10%.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on October 12, 2020, after announcing a new COVID-19 alert system. - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered pubs in Liverpool to shut as part of a new strategy to tackle a surge in coronavirus cases, as staff at three field hospitals across the country were told to prepare for a wave of admissions. The northwest English city is the first to be placed at "very high risk" under a new three-tiered system designed to bring order what has become a complex web of local restrictions. (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has insisted that local lockdowns can be effective and will help avoid a second nationwide lockdown (Toby Melville / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has said his “whack-a-mole” strategy of localised lockdowns could help prevent another nationwide lockdown, but scientific advisors to the government have questioned whether the localised tier-system could have come too late.

Scientific advisor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said of the likelihood of success of local lockdown measures: “I really hope that they are [successful] but the general feeling is that they might not be, that we might have to have much more of an approach and that this three week delay between the impact of interventions and it affecting hospitalisations means we are already going to be close to where we were in April in two or three weeks time.”

Medley was speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of an interview with Dominic Raab in which the foreign secretary said that expert advice was still that local lockdowns could work.

An information screen is pictured in Manchester as the city and the surrounding area faces local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the area amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Britain, July 31, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
An information screen is pictured in Manchester as the city and the surrounding area faces local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the area (REUTERS/Phil Noble)

Urging Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to co-operate, Raab said: “We’ve looked at SAGE’s advice and I spoke to Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty this week… Their advice is very clear – we can avoid national level lockdowns if we lean in to this tiered approach.

“Andy ought to be working with the government. He’s resisting targeted restrictions in Manchester while Keir Starmer is calling for a national lockdown which would do far more damage.”

R rate figures are based on epidemiological data such as hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths, meaning it can take up to three weeks for changes in the spread of disease to be reflected in the estimated reproduction rate due to the time delay between initial infection and the need for hospital care.

As of Friday there had been 43,293 COVID-19 related deaths in the UK and more than 674,000 confirmed cases.

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