Scientists are warning the government to prepare for a deadly second wave of coronavirus, as officials mull localised lockdowns.
The reproduction rate of the virus – known as the ‘R’ – is higher in some parts of the UK than others.
The emerging challenge has led Health Secretary Matt Hancock to caution yesterday that parts of England could face stricter lockdowns than others when outbreaks are spotted.
But the government has faced criticism this week as some suggest it is easing the lockdown too quickly, with the UK death toll passing 40,000 yesterday.
The new estimates suggest the R is between 0.7 and 1.0 in England, 1 in the South West and 1.01 in the North West.
The R rate measures how many people with the coronavirus on average go on to be infected from a single case of Covid-19.
It is being used by the government’s science advisory group, SAGE, to monitor the efficacy of Britain’s lockdown restrictions as officials strive to keep the R below 1.
If it is 1 or higher, the virus will spread exponentially through the population, while a value less than 1 indicates the virus is in decline.
Concerns over outbreak hotspots came as scientists and doctors pleaded with the government to hold an inquiry ahead of a potential second wave this winter.
And schools in the regions emerging as suffering higher transmission rates are warning they should be able to keep their gates closed in local outbreaks.
Schools are being “strongly advised” not to admit more pupils after new data suggested coronavirus could still be spreading in the North West of England.
Headteachers in Tameside, east of Manchester, have been told to delay the wider reopening of schools beyond key workers’ and vulnerable children, planned for Monday, “until there is further assurance,” the council’s director of public health, Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy said in a letter to schools.
The North West has the highest rate of Covid-19 infections in England according to Public Health England (PHE).
Data has suggested the reproductive rate, known as the R value, is higher than 1 in the region.
Other local councils in the region are understood to be monitoring the situation with Tameside postponing the reopening of schools until June 22.
But Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has questioned whether such measures are workable, calling them a “recipe for chaos”.
Both he and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram have questioned whether lockdown relaxation was being lifted too soon, driven from London, with the regions and the North not being listened to.
Council bosses in Liverpool and Gateshead led a northern backlash against the Government announcement last month advising schools to reopen for Years 1 and 6 from June 1.
Many councils in the areas have only partially reopened to pupils other than vulnerable children or those of key workers.
In a warning that could deal another blow to schools and other essential services fully reopening, experts are saying fear a bigger threat could be yet to come.
Scientists are still racing to determine whether deadly Covid-19 will flourish in winter, like seasonal bugs including influenza, as the world continues the search for a vaccine.
In a letter to The Guardian today those fears were outlined starkly in a direct public appeal to Boris Johnson’s government.
Twenty-seven experts say the Government is without “quick, practical solutions to some of the structural problems that have made implementing an effective ( coronavirus ) response so difficult”.
They write: “If, as seems probable, there is a second wave this winter, many more will die unless we find quick, practical solutions to some of (these) structural problems,” adds the letter.
It was signed by top experts including former World Health Organisation director Professor Anthony Costello and former Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) member Professor Deenan Pillay.
The letter warned policy-makers and healthcare systems were poorly prepared for another onslaught of Covid-19.
It continued: “We call on all political parties to commit to a rapid, transparent, expert inquiry to address these issues. This must avoid diverting the efforts of those responding to the crisis or apportioning blame, but should propose feasible ways to overcome the obstacles faced by those on the frontline of the response and help them to save lives.”
Deaths in UK hospitals so far: 31,469
Deaths across all settings: 40,261
(The two figures above count all people who have had a positive test result confirmed by a Public Health or NHS lab in the UK)
Total deaths registered so far: 43,837
(This is the number of registered deaths in England and Wales where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate)
Excess deaths so far in 2020: 56,308
(The number of deaths in England and Wales above the average amount, but not necessarily caused by Covid-19)
Sources: coronavirus.data.gov.uk and ONS
It was also revealed yesterday that the number of people with Covid-19 in England fell during the second half of May to 5,600 new infections daily, down from around 8,000.
A more recent R infection update showed in the last week that new infections are flatlining, but outbreaks in hospitals and care homes are still sending fresh cases back out in to the community.
R rate in England’s regions
These are the estimated figures as a median average, according to research by Public Health England and Cambridge University.
Research by Public Health England and Cambridge University’s MRC Biostatistics Unit – which estimates the R number in different regions – suggested it could be above 1 in the North West.
The data – which feeds in to SAGE’s calculations – estimated the R number as being a median of 1.01 in the North West and 1.0 in the South West.
Here are the hotspots according to the latest data:
- East of England – 0.94
- London – 0.95
- Midlands – 0.90
- North East and Yorkshire – 0.89
- North West – 1.01
- South East – 0.97
- South West – 1