The UK coronavirus R value has fallen below 1 for the first time since July, according to Government figures. The virus’ reproduction rate details how many people could catch the virus from one single infected person. It is thought a lower r-rate could mean lockdown restrictions could be lifted, sparking fresh hope for millions up and down the UK.
What is the R-rate now?
The R-number is now estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9, Government data from Sage confirmed this afternoon.
Sage says: “An R value between 0.7 and 0.9 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 7 and 9 other people.
“A growth rate of between -5% and -2% means that the number of new infections is shrinking by between 2% and 5% every day.”
The R-rate has fallen by 0.1 on last week when it was between 0.7 and 1.
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The discovery new Covid strains had caused the value to soar in recent weeks and months, with the R number peaking in the week of January 8, when it was between 1 and 1.4.
But the rate now seems to have spablised, with the number of cases also falling week on week.
Sage said: “Estimates of the R value are below 1 in all NHS regions of England. Although R is below 1 in all regions, there may be more variation in transmission within each region.
“These estimates mean we are confident the epidemic is shrinking across all NHS England regions.
“However, prevalence of the virus remains high, so it remains important that everyone continues to stay at home in order to keep the R value down, protect the NHS and help save lives.”
What does this mean for lockdown?
The drop in the R-rate has sparked hope the third national lockdown in England could soon be lifted if cases continue to fall.
Today’s data comes as cases of the virus have dropped by 27 per cent in the last week.
Experts from the ZOE Symptom Tracker App say there are currently about 14,818 people in the UK with symptomatic Covid. This is down 20,360 cases from a week ago.
Prof Tim Spector said: “Based on the ZOE data and our predictions we are soon to be in the same place we were in early June, with the advantage of having a large proportion of the population vaccinated which could mean good news in terms of lifting some restrictions sooner rather than later.”
He added: “By March 8 we should have less than 1 in 740 people with symptoms allowing us to get kids back into the classrooms and starting to allow people to exercise and meet, at least outdoors, where the risk of transmission is much lower.
“Until then it’s important to keep following the guidelines, even if you have had a vaccine, and keep reporting symptoms and getting tested even if your symptoms are not typical.”
Boris Johnson is under pressure to outline a roadmap of how and when restrictions have been lifted – but scientific experts warn the Prime Minister should exercise caution and not lift the lockdown too early.
The vaccine rollout is continuing at a great pace, with the UK on track to have vaccinated some 15 million from the top four JCVI priority groups’ by the Government’s target of Monday, February 15,
Today, NHS England said people aged 65 to 69 can now have a Covid-19 vaccine in England if GPs have done all they can to reach those at higher risk.