THE coronavirus R rate in England has fallen below the crucial threshold of 1 – as new regional stats show it’s 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.
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The latest figures, published today, reveal the UK’s average R rate has remained the same, at 0.7 to 0.9.
Regional 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.
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.
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.
But 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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The move to Level 3 allows for the “gradual relaxation of restrictions and social distancing measures” – raising hopes the two-metre rule could be scrapped, a move which could breathe much-need life into businesses closed for months, and mark a move towards getting all kids back to school.
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.”