Sir Patrick Vallance said cases were still rising but at a slower rate than during the first wave thanks to the precautions people are taking.
Advisory group Sage estimated that the R number may have risen slightly from a range of 1.2–1.5 to 1.3–1.5.
Presenting the data at a Downing Street press conference yesterday, Sir Patrick said a level of around three would be expected in an unmitigated epidemic.
He said: “Although the R is such that the epidemic is growing, it’s growing not as fast as it was back in March or April.
“It’s growing more slowly because of the measures we’re taking and if we take more measures to get that below one, then we can get this under control.
“But at the moment you can see the numbers are increasing, leading to hospitalisations, leading to intensive care unit admissions.”
There were 4,647 Covid-19 patients in hospital in England yesterday, up from 3,090 a week ago. Some 482 were in ventilation beds. Sir Patrick said 40 per cent of those admitted to hospital since August were under the age of 60.
Sage also warned there was “no clear evidence” that the trajectory of the epidemic had changed in the past month.
Meanwhile, Independent Sage – separate from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – joined calls for an immediate circuit breaker lockdown as they unveiled a six-week plan to bring cases under control.
It recommended an intense two to three-week lockdown with restrictions similar to those seen earlier this year, then three to four weeks of lesser restrictions.
The experts said the move could bring the R number down to around 0.6 and infection rates below 5,000 a day.
Professor Christina Pagel, of University College London, said: “We should see cases – and following on, hospitalisations and deaths – halve every week. That will have a big impact.”
Cases have soared by 50 per cent in a week, according to the Office for National Statistics. It estimated that 336,500 people in the community had the virus in the week to October 8, up from 224,400 in the previous seven days.