R number in UK rises to as high as 1.4

8 January 2021, 15:38 | Updated: 8 January 2021, 20:12

The R number in the UK has risen slightly
The R number in the UK has risen slightly. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The coronavirus R number in the UK could now be as high as 1.4, according to the Government’s scientific advisers.

R, which represents the average number of people each person with Covid-19 goes on to infect, has risen to between 1 and 1.4, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.

When last updated on December 23, 2020, it was between 1.1 and 1.3.

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When R is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially.

An R number between 1 and 1.4 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 10 and 14 other people.

The growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between 0 and plus 6 per cent for the UK as a whole.

This means the number of new infections is growing by between 0 and 6 per cent every day.

Sage said the R number estimate published on Friday represents the transmission of Covid-19 over the past few weeks rather than the present situation.

This is due to the time delay between someone being infected, having symptoms and needing healthcare.

The estimates of both R and growth rate are based on the latest data available up to January 4.

Sage said: "R is a lagging indicator and so these estimates cannot account for the impact of recent policy changes or changes in transmission that have not yet been reflected in epidemiological data.

"This includes any changes that might have occurred over the festive period or the lockdown in England, announced on January 5."

The experts added that the novel coronavirus variant is growing much faster than other variants currently circulating in the UK, and it will take more time to fully understand the full impact of the new variant on the R number.

It comes as new analysis shows more than half of all major hospital trusts in England currently have more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave of the virus.

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a "major incident", saying the spread of coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the capital's hospitals.

In two regions - eastern England and south-east England - more than three-quarters of trusts are above their first-wave peak.

Other trusts have seen their numbers rise so rapidly that they could pass their first-wave peak within days.

On Thursday, a further 1,162 people in the UK were confirmed to have died from Covid-19 in the highest daily death count since April.

Figures from the Department of Health showed 52,618 more people have tested positive, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to over 2.84 million.

The total number of deaths, according to government figures, is now more than 77,000.

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