COVID reproduction “R” rate is now at lowest number since late August and early September, Sage says
It comes after three weeks of national lockdown in England, and provides hope infections are starting to be brought under control
The UK’s coronavirus reproduction “R” rate is at its lowest number in three months.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the R number is now between 0.9 and 1.0, down from 1.0 and 1.1 last week.
This is the lowest R rate since between 21 August and 4 September, when it was between 0.9 and 1.1.
It offers hope the spread of COVID-19 infections is starting to be brought under control following three weeks of national lockdown in England.
R represents the average number of people each COVID-19 positive person goes on to infect. When the figure is above 1.0, an outbreak can grow exponentially.
The latest R of between 0.9 and 1.0 means that on average, every 10 people with COVID will infect between nine and 10 other people.
England’s national lockdown is set to end on 2 December, after which more than 55 million people will remain under tough restrictions as part of the localised three-tier system which Downing Street hopes will keep R down.
Large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive Tier 3, with the majority of people elsewhere, including in London, in Tier 2.
Of England’s regions, the North West has the lowest R rate: between 0.7 and 0.9. The South East has the highest: between 1.0 and 1.2.
Watch: I understand tier frustrations, Boris Johnson says
Meanwhile, only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – accounting for little over 1% of England’s population – face the least severe Tier 1 restrictions which allow groups of up to six people to mix indoors.
Commenting on the new R, Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the controlling of the virus is an “amazing achievement”.
He said “a road map towards a much better time for the UK is becoming clear”, with the tier system “warranted” in order to allow the temporary easing of restrictions over Christmas “that is so important to many” – though he warned a circuit breaker lockdown may be needed afterwards.
On Friday, Boris Johnson defended his return to the tier system, with the prime minister facing an angry rebellion from his own backbench MPs who have accused the government of “authoritarianism”.
Speaking on a visit to a testing lab in Salisbury, Johnson said: “I know it is frustrating for people when they are in a high tier area when there is very little incidence in their village or their area. I totally understand why people feel frustrated.
“The difficulty is that if you did it any other way, first of all you’d divide the country up into loads and loads of very complicated sub-divisions. There has got to be some simplicity and clarity in the way we do this.
“The second problem is that, alas, our experience is that when a high-incidence area is quite close to a low-incidence area, unless you beat the problem in the high-incidence area, the low-incidence area I’m afraid starts to catch up.”
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said the tiers violate people’s human rights.
He said: “My concerns are two-fold. The first is that the restrictions in Tiers 2 and 3 are a massive restriction of people’s fundamental human rights.
“Telling them when they can see their children, their grandchildren, preventing people from meeting their partners, and stopping people from visiting vulnerable relatives in care homes.
What tier are you in?
“Secondly, the tiers have been applied in an unjust and unfair way, putting whole counties into lockdown when significant areas have very low levels of infection.”
In Wales, meanwhile, first minister Mark Drakeford imposed fresh national restrictions after saying the progress made during the country’s 17-day “fire break” lockdown between 23 October and 9 November was being “eroded”.
It comes as Wales’ infection rate rose to 187 cases per 100,000 people.
He announced the nationwide closure of cinemas, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues.
Watch: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work