The crucial coronavirus ‘R’ number could be as high as 1 in every region of England, official figures show.
The overall figure across the UK and England is unchanged since last week – at 0.7-0.9 and 0.8-1.0 respectively – as the number of new cases “levels off”.
However, while figures in several regions are no longer as reliable, the range for possible R rates now reaches as high as 1.0 in every region of England.
That is a change from last week, when the top end of the range for different regions was between 0.9 and 1.1 for different regions.
The good news is now that there is no region where R is estimated to be above 1.0.
The Government Office for Science advises that is is very unlikely R is 1 in each region. This is because figures are presented in a range and “the most likely true values are somewhere towards the middle of this range”.
The growth rate of infections per day for the UK is -4% to -1%, while for England it is -4% to 0%.
The figures are the third weekly update published since pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were allowed to reopen in England on July 4.
They come as face masks are made compulsory in England’s shops – and as gyms and indoor pools prepare to reopen in England from tomorrow.
R refers to the number of people who get infected on average by each person who has Covid-19.
If the R is below 1, it means the virus is shrinking because each sufferer passes it – on average – to less than one other person.
If the R is above 1, it means the virus is spreading exponentially because with each stage, it ends up being harboured by more and more people.
Before the lockdown in March, the government’s advisors believed R was between 2.6 and 2.8.
That meant the number of cases in intensive care was doubling every three days.
Separate official figures today showed the number of new coronavirus cases is no longer falling in England.
The Office for National Statistics said a steady decline in number of people testing positive for Covid-19 over the last few months “has now levelled off”.
Today’s ONS figures estimate that in the week to July 19, around one in 2,000 people in had coronavirus in the community in England – not including hospitals or care homes.
Last week’s bulletin put the figure at around one in 2,300 people.
The ONS warned its figures “cannot be directly compared” from one week to the next, because they are based on complex trend models.
But ONS statistician Heather Bovill said: “Despite decreases in the level of COVID-19 infection from mid-May to mid-June this has slowed in recent weeks, and has now levelled off.
“As the Government relaxes lockdown measures, we are closely monitoring these results for any changes.”
* = Low case numbers and/or a high degree of variability in transmission mean these estimates are insufficiently robust to inform policy decisions.
Today’s data comes after two new parts of England were flagged as “areas of intervention” because of a worrying rate of Covid-19 cases.
Luton, Bedfordshire, and Blackburn & Darwen, Lancashire, were all highlighted by Public Health England as being of particular concern.
They join Leicester, which was put into local lockdown over a worrying spike in cases.
In Blackburn with Darwen, the new infections rate has jumped from 48.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 12 to 79.9 in the seven days to July 19, with 119 new cases recorded.
Luton had not previously been on PHE’s watchlist.
But a government source told the Mirror a Leicester-style local lockdown was unlikely at this point.
Instead both areas are expected to freeze any further relaxation of restrictions, such as reopening gyms and leisure centres, rather than shutting down pubs and restaurants.
The source said: “Cases have been shooting up but it is not at Leicester levels. Authorities in both areas have been great, they have really been on top of it.”
Despite the optimism, Boris Johnson today admitted it may be “the middle of next year” before we are “well past” coronavirus.
The PM’s comments came days after he claimed the nation could return to “normality” by Christmas.
He added: “I do still think that we have tough times ahead in keeping this virus under control. And we have tough times ahead in coming through economically.”