Rate of coronavirus infection hovers close to one in London, Midlands and North West

THE rate of coronavirus infection is currently hovering close to the all-important one mark in London, Midlands and North West.

However the experts have said it is not time to panic because while the number of cases are dropping it makes measurements more volatile.

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The R figure is thought to be between 0.8 and 1.0 in the Midlands, the highest of any region in the UK, and only slightly lower in London and the North West, where estimates put it in the range of 0.7 and 1.0.

The stats indicate though the R has plummeted in the South West.

Across England, the Covid reproduction number is currently 0.7 to 0.9 – down from 0.7 to 1 last week.

But scientists said using the R to gauge the UK's crisis is becoming less useful because of the falling prevalence of the coronavirus in the community.

Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, explained the fewer infected patients there are, the greater the margin for error when estimating the R value.

Professor Heneghan told MailOnline: “There is a problem with using the R rate now, as infection comes down to very low levels.

“The R will fluctuate, so you would expect the R to become a less accurate measurement of the epidemic.

“No-one will get a handle on the R rate when 80% people are asymptomatic and the virus is circulating at such low levels. 

“What really matters is looking at data such as hospital admissions, 999 calls, GP consultation rates and NHS 111 interactions. And when we look at these, all of them are reassuringly coming down.”

Regional R rates have either remained the same, or fallen with the South West recording the biggest drop from 0.8 to 1.1 last week to 0.6 to 0.9 this week.

Professor Keith Neal, an expert in epidemiology and infectious disease at the University of Nottingham, said the latest figures are good news for us all.

"As the number of cases falls everybody's risk falls," he said.

The Department of Health today revealed 42,461 people have now died from Covid-19, while infections reached 301,815.

It comes as Britain's Covid-19 alert level was downgraded from 4 to 3 today, paving the way for the relaxation of the two-metre rule.

Health secretary Matt Hancock described the move as a "big moment for the country" and praised Brits' determination to beat the disease.

The UK's four chief medical officers agreed to reduce the alert level after considering two factors, the number of confirmed cases at any one time and the R rate – the scientific measure of how fast the virus is spreading.

In other good news:

  • Matt Hancock revealed the UK's death rate is back to normal for the first time since lockdown began
  • Overnight stays with family and friends 'could be allowed within weeks'
  • Quarantine-free holidays to Portugal, Greece and Spain could start on July 4
  • New ONS stats show the epidemic is shrinking with 33k people currently infected
  • One in three NHS trusts reported no coronavirus deaths for a week

Crucial value

The R rate represents the average number of people one infected person will pass Covid-19 on to.

Above 1 and an epidemic is growing, below one is an indication the outbreak is beginning to shrink.

Since the outbreak began, the R rate has been higher in places like care homes and hospitals, when compared with the community as a whole.

Prof Neal said: "When cases from sources like these (care homes) are included it raises the R rate as a whole, but does not reflect the true picture of transmission in the wider community, which is what is actually important to the majority of people.

"The smaller the area being considered the greater the effect on the R value of a cluster. A small cluster of Covid-19 cases can lead to an apparent rise in R which does not give the true reflection of local risk."

Today Sage experts warned the R rate does not tell us how quickly an epidemic is changing, pointing out that different diseases with the same R rate can result in epidemics that grow at different speeds.

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For example, if a disease has an R rate of 2 and infection lasts years, it will grow much more slowly than another disease with an R rate of 2 where infection lasts days.

As a result, for the first time the Government, has published the coronavirus 'growth' rates, for the UK, England and the regions.

The 'growth' rate reflects how quickly the number of infections are changing day-by-day.

The Government said today: "It is an approximation of the change of number of infections each day.

"If the growth rate is greater than zero (positive), then the disease will grow.

"If the growth rate is less than zero then the disease will shrink."

Shrinking

The currently growth rate for the UK as a whole is -4% to -2%, while in England it stands at -4% to -1% – indicating the epidemic is shrinking faster in the UK than in England.

In all areas of the UK except London the growth rate is negative. In the capital it lies somewhere between -5% to +1. All other regions are below the crucial threshold of zero.

A Sage spokesman said: "Growth rates provide us with different information to R estimates, by informing us of the size and speed of change, whereas R value only gives us information on the direction of change."

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If the growth rate is greater than zero – or positive – the disease will grown.

But below zero and negative, is a sign it's shrinking.

The growth rates in the regions are:

UK: -4% to -2%

England: -4% to -1%

East of England: -6% to -1%

London: -5% to +1%

Midlands: -4% to 0%

North East and Yorkshire: -5% to -1%

North West: -4% to 0%

South East: -5% to -1%

South West: -6% to 0%Shortcode

The R value and growth rate for the UK and England paint a hopeful picture of an epidemic that is heading in the right direction.

It comes in a week where lockdown was eased further, with non-essential shops reopening their doors on Monday, and shoppers flocking to queue after three months away from the high street.

Today's lowering of the Covid-19 alert level by the Joint Biosecurity Centre marks another positive step.

The Government's chief medical officers, led by Prof Chris Whitty, say transmission of the bug is no longer high or rising exponentially.

A joint statement from the four CMOs, said: "The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the Covid-19 alert level should move from Level 4 (a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially) to Level 3 (a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation).

"There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues.

"It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur.

"We have made progress against the virus thanks to the efforts of the public and we need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure this progress continues."

Mr Hancock added: "The UK moving to a lower alert level is a big moment for the country, and is a real testament to the British people's determination to beat this virus.

"The Government's plan is working.

"Infection rates are rapidly falling, we have protected the NHS and, thanks to the hard work of millions in our health and social care services, we are getting the country back on her feet."

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