THE coronavirus R rate has gone up again in England – hitting the crucial value of 1, new figures show.
Across the whole of the UK, the Covid-19 reproduction number has remained stable since last week at 0.7 to 0.9.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
But the latest regional statistics released today by the Government show it has crept up to between 0.8 and 1 in England after rising in the South.
It comes almost a week after pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were allowed to reopen.
The R rate has also risen above 1 in the South West where it is now at 0.7 to 1.1, while the South East is 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 last week to 0.7 to 1.0 today.
However, the value is down slightly in the Midlands – despite a local outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Leicester – from 0.8 to 1.0 last week to between 0.7 and 0.9, this week.
Experts say the true R rate probably lies somewhere between the upper and lower estimates – and the epidemic is continuing to shrink.
Prof Oliver Johnson, of the University of Bristol, said: “The fact that R is still estimated to be below 1 across the UK implies that the epidemic is continuing to shrink overall.
“This is consistent with the numbers observed through positive tests and deaths, which both continue to decline.
The fact that R is still estimated to be below 1 across the UK implies that the epidemic is continuing to shrink overall
“There is uncertainty on these estimates because R cannot be directly measured and inferring its value becomes hard when the number of cases is low.
“For this reason it is not possible to rule out the possibility that the epidemic is growing in some regions, though values in the middle of the ranges given are most likely.”
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”.
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.”
Prof James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, cautioned that the R value is “not a particularly useful number”.
He said: “What is now crucial is that the testing regime is sampling sufficiently to detect any local hot spots, that the individual is supported to rapidly isolate, contacts are rapidly traced, rapidly tested and if needs be rapidly isolated.”
But Dr Kyrychko said while the R rate is important, it is crucial to have a detailed breakdown of cases at a local level, “so community transmission can be quickly identified and contained”.
She warned with lockdown restrictions starting to ease it will take four to six weeks to see the full effect of more relaxed measures on the number of cases in each region.
It’s likely to be at least a few more weeks the impact of opening pubs and restaurants is reflected in the figures, she suggested.