Government scientists 'do not have confidence' R number below 1

31 July 2020, 12:31

The R rate has risen in England
The R rate has risen in England. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Scientific advisers to the Government say they "do not have confidence" the R number is below the critical rate of 1 in England.

Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) estimated the number has risen from 0.7-0.8 last week, to 0.8-0.9.

The R number measures the number of people someone with Covid-19 infects. When above 1, the virus accelerates.

In the North West, where new lockdown rules were brought into force at midnight, the R rate has risen from 0.7-1 last week to 0.8-1.1 this week.

It comes after the Government re-imposed a ban on separate households meeting in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of the North West on Thursday night.

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The new rules also ban members of two different households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, but these businesses will remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.

But data released on Friday by Sage revealed the growth rate is now between minus 4% to minus 1%, compared with a rate of minus 5% to minus 1% per day, last week.

"However, we are starting to see early indications that these values may be increasing," the advisers said in a report.

"This is not yet reflected in these estimates because the data used to calculate R and growth rate reflect the situation from a few weeks ago."

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Boris Johnson said during a special Downing Street press briefing on Friday lunchtime: “I think from May I said – when we set out our plan – I said ‘we would not hesitate to put on the brakes at the slightest sign the numbers we’re going in the wrong direction’.

“We’re now seeing a warning light on the dashboard, it is right to respond in the way that we are.”

Meanwhile, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday showed there has been an increase in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in England.

According to the ONS, between July 20 and 26 there were around 0.78 new Covid-19 infections for every 10,000 people in the community population in England.

This is equal to around 4,200 new cases per day, up from an estimated 2,800 new cases a day in the previous week.

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that the UK has potentially reached a limit for how much of society can be opened up.

He said: "I think what we're seeing from the data from ONS and other data is that we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society.

"So what that means potentially is that if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.

"And these will be difficult trade-offs, some of which will be decisions for government and some of which are for all of us as citizens to do.

"But we have to be realistic about this. The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong."