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UK’s R number falls slightly – but SAGE warns of ‘significant’ number of deaths

Written by on 13 November 2020

The coronavirus reproduction number in the UK has fallen slightly to a maximum of 1.2, government scientists have said.

Nationwide, the reproduction (R) number is now between 1.0 and 1.2 – down from between 1.1 and 1.3 last week, according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The number of new COVID-19 cases is increasing by between 1 and 3% every day, they added.

The R number is an indicator used to determine how quickly coronavirus is spreading, representing the average number of people each person with the virus goes on to infect.

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But SAGE says that “the estimate of R for the entire UK has become less meaningful in recent weeks”, because of different restrictions in each of the four nations.

They also caution that while the R has dropped in some areas, case numbers there are still “very high”.

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“Significant levels of healthcare demand and mortality will persist until R is reduced to and remains below 1 for an extended period of time,” they add.

The R number is currently lowest in the North West of England – between 0.9 and 1.1, followed by the North East and London, which are both in line with the national figure of between 1.0 and 1.2.

The South West, South East and East of England have the highest R numbers – with a maximum of 1.4.

A breakdown of R numbers across England

South East 1.2 to 1.4 (unchanged)

South West 1.2 to 1.4 (unchanged)

East of England 1.1 to 1.4 (unchanged)

Midlands 1.1 to 1.3 (unchanged)

North East and Yorkshire 1.0 to 1.2 (down from 1.1 to 1.2)

London 1.0 to 1.2 (down from 1.1 to 1.3)

North West 0.9 to 1.1 (down from 1.0 to 1.1)

Elsewhere on Friday, the latest weekly coronavirus figures show the majority of areas in England have seen a rise in case rates for the seven days to 9 November.

Hull now has the highest transmission rate in England with 1,931 new cases recorded – the equivalent of 743.3 cases per 100,000 people. It is up from the 545 cases per 100,000 in the seven days prior, according to data from Public Health England.

Although, cases in Blackburn with Darwen, which has the second highest rate, have fallen from 731.5 per 100,000 to 686.1, with 1,027 new cases.

And the same has happened in Oldham, which is in third place, where the rate has dropped from 792.5 per 100,000 to 677.7, with 1,607 new cases.

However, statistics show a different story in Wales.

COVID-19 case rates were falling in almost every part of Wales by the end of the firebreak lockdown, latest figures show.

The biggest drops were in Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Blaenau Gwent, the three local authorities with the highest rates in the country.

The figures, also for the seven days to 9 November, are based on tests carried out in NHS Wales laboratories and those conducted on Welsh residents processed in commercial laboratories.

They show that the number of new cases per 100,000 people in Merthyr Tydfil dropped week on week from 732.7 in the seven days to November 2 to 434.3 in the week to 9 November.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf the rate has fallen from 571.2 to 345.3, and in Blaenau Gwent the rate is down from 516.7 to 307.7.

The only area where the rate was rising was Ceredigion, where it increased from 48.1 to 111.4, while in Gwynedd it remained stable at 53.0.

Due to the lag between a person becoming infected, showing symptoms and then getting tested it is still too soon for the figures to reflect the impact of the 17-day firebreak in Wales, which officially ended on Monday.

But the downward trend in most parts of the country suggests the recent surge in cases may have peaked.

Meanwhile, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey showed that 654,000 people had coronavirus outside of hospital in England between 31 October and 6 November – a small jump on the previous week.

This is the equivalent of around 1.2% of the population.

The most recent figures represent a jump from 618,700 people, or 1.13% of the population, who were estimated to have coronavirus in the seven days before.

But the ONS said that while the infection rate has risen, “the rate of increase is slower than previous weeks”.

Case rates for the most recent period were highest among secondary school aged children, older teenagers and young adults, the report said.

While infection rates in Wales and Scotland increased, those in Northern Ireland have “now appear to have levelled off”, the ONS survey said.

In Northern Ireland around 1 in 105 people have COVID-19 in the community, compared to 1 in 85 in Wales and 1 in 135 in Scotland.