The Government’s top advisory group has warned that the rate of coronavirus infection is rising and could be close to one.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the UK reproduction number for the coronavirus is now between 0.7 and one, having risen from 0.5 and 0.9 last week.
If the reproduction number (R) is higher than one, then the rate of infection will rise across the UK.
If it is lower than one, then the outbreak will shrink.
The research was carried out by six research groups and suggested that cases in care homes and hospitals accounted for a greater proportion of cases than last week.
It comes as wide variations in the ‘R’ rate between regions have emerged, with it as low as 0.4 in London, but as high as 0.8 in other areas.
And the planned reopening schools at the start of June, which is concerning unions, is dependent on the ‘R’ rate being under control.
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Increased movement may be affecting the R
While the increased movement of people which was legalised this week may have led to more infections, it is too soon for any change to show up in the data.
The R is estimated using data from hospitalisations, intensive care demand, deaths and the number of social contacts people have.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser said: “R is one of the important things you can track to understand an epidemic. If you can estimate R, then you have part of a reliable tool for planning how to combat the virus.
“If the R is higher than one that means this disease is growing exponentially and will keep on spreading to more and more people. To keep R below one and control the virus, it is vital that people stay alert and continue to follow the latest Government guidelines to the letter.
“In the coming weeks we will update this estimate regularly.”
When asked about the rising R at the Downing Street briefing this evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the important thing was that it remained below one.
It is thought the rate of infection is lower in London than elsewhere in the country
He said: “We are constantly keeping the R under review. We don’t think that it is above one. So that meets that test.
“It is an incredibly important figure for policymakers but it is one data point to look at alongside the level of new cases.”
SAGE is currently working to calculate the regional R numbers.
It is thought that the rate of transmission is now lower in London than it is in the North East and Scotland.
Yesterday a modelling study by Public Health England and the Cambridge MRC Biostatistics Unit found that the R in London was just 0.4, compared to 0.8 in the North East and Yorkshire.
In the North West it was 0.73 the study said, 0.76 in the South West, 0.68 in the Midlands and 0.71 in the South East and South.
The study released today questioned those numbers and suggests they are actually higher however.
Today’s study suggests the R is rising
(Image: Guy Bell/Shutterstock)
It comes amid a major row between the government and unions who say June 1 is too early to reopen primary schools.
The Department for Education document said: “The changes proposed from 11 May are expected to allow R to remain below 1 if adherence rates to social distancing measures do not drop.
“Any changes in adherence rates or behavioural changes could have a much larger impact on R.
“This is why it is critical that we continue to monitor and review the scientific advice on transmission rates before we ask education and childcare settings to invite a greater number of children to return on 1 June.”