The coronavirus ‘R rate’ could be as low as 0.6 in some parts of England, according to a study by researchers from the University of Cambridge.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit COVID-19 Working Group estimates the current daily number of new infections occurring across England is 60,200.
The researchers said the number of COVID infections across England is falling as a whole, with the R rate falling below one in regions including the East of England, London, the South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
The R rate refers to the number of people an infected person gives the virus to on average. An R value below one means the overall size of the outbreak is decreasing.
The Cambridge study uses a number of data sources to calculate current infection levels.
The government’s R rate estimate, which uses different methodology and is subject to a time-lag of a number of weeks, is due to be published on Friday,
Last week, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said R was between 1.0 and 1.4 meaning, on average, every 10 people with COVID-19 would infect between 10 and 14 other people.
Watch: What does the ‘R’ number mean?
According to the figures released by the Cambridge researchers on Friday, the median R rate in London is 0.61, while the rate is 0.64 in the South East.
The rate is above 1 in regions including the South West, North West, North East and East Midlands.
An MRC spokesperson said: “The growth rate for England is now estimated to be -0.02 per day. This means that, nationally, the number of infections is declining but with a high degree of regional variation.
“Infections are still increasing in the South West and North East, whilst plateauing in the West Midlands and East Midlands.”
The Cambridge team predicts that the number of deaths occurring daily is likely to be between 518 and 860 on 28 January.
It comes as Public Health England (PHE) released data this week showing infection rates had fallen in most regions of England across all age groups apart from the over-80s.
PHE suggested that the proportion of the population who have ever been infected could stand at 30% in London, 26% in the North West and 21% in the North East, dropping to 13% in the South East and 8% in the South West.
Elsewhere, the Zoe Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey from King’s College London put the UK R rate at 0.9, with cases having plateaued in most age groups.
Tim Spector, who is leading the study, said: “It’s great to see case numbers falling in most regions but numbers are still worryingly high and hospitals will stay under pressure for some time yet.
“With such high numbers and growing evidence new strains are highly transmissible, things can still take a turn for the worse. We need numbers to keep falling before we make any changes to current restrictions.”
The government reported its R number estimate to be 1.2 to 1.3 on Friday.
That reflects the past few weeks due to the lag between a person getting infected and then displaying symptoms and possibly needing healthcare.
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