England’s R rate range of coronavirus infection could be as high as one in all parts of the country.
The rate, which is updated every Friday, shows that the rate of infection across England as a whole has remained the same - but that it is potentially increasing in some parts of the country.
The government has used R (reproduction) as one means to assess whether the epidemic is in decline. An R rate above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially, with each contagious person infecting more than one other person. It is also an indication that hospitals and healthcare systems are more vulnerable.
Last week, many areas hovered just below one, but London and the south-west had reached a top range of 1.1. This week all regions reported ranges reaching one.
Read more: what is the R rate?
The latest figures come on the same day Boris Johnson urged the public to get a winter flu jab as he promoted the expansion of a vaccination programme across England, in which up to 30 million people could be eligible.
The PM said it would help protect the NHS amid concern that a second wave in the winter could overwhelm the country’s health services if it overlapped with a particularly bad flu season.
New laws were also introduced on Friday to stem the spread of the virus - with face coverings becoming mandatory in all shops and takeaway outlets across England.
More than 45,000 people have died in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus, and there have been nearly 300,000 confirmed cases.
The latest government figures suggest that while the number of new coronavirus cases is not tailing off particularly quickly, it is in decline.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care told Yahoo News UK: “The current growth rate for the UK as a whole is -4% to -1% and the R estimate for the UK, as a whole, remains at 0.7-0.9.
“It is important to recognise that the values are shown as a range, the most likely true values are somewhere towards the middle of this range. Meanwhile a growth rate of -4% to -1% means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1 and 4 per cent every day.
“When the number of cases falls to low levels and/ or there is a high degree of variability in transmission across a region then estimates of R and the growth rate become insufficiently robust to inform policy decisions.”
Scientists use the R rate to predict how far and how fast coronavirus will spread - and the number informs policy decisions about how to contain an outbreak.
Dr Yuliya Kyrychko, reader in mathematics at the University of Sussex, said the latest data was “reassuring”.
“It is very reassuring to see the R number estimates to be below or equal to one in all regions,” she said.
“At the same time, the fact that it is so close to one, and that the growth rates in the east of England and the south west are estimated to be up to +2% suggests that it is very important to stay vigilant and continue with monitoring and efficient tracking of suspected cases to avoid a possibility of overlooking an outbreak.
“Recent examples from the UK and overseas show that once the restrictions are lifted, it may take some time for infections to pick up again, hence, particular care should be taken with interpreting the data, and collecting and analysing it quickly and at a local level.”
Dr Konstantin Blyuss, also of University of Sussex, said the figures provoked a level of uncertainty and encouraged people to maintain social distancing and follow government advice on the use of face masks.
He said: “Since the overall numbers of new infections are rather small now, this adds uncertainty to estimates of R number, and this can provide a false sense of security both to a wider population, and to local councils making decisions about strategy for disease containment and prevention.
“In this respect, it is essential that people try to adhere as much as practically possible to existing guidelines, namely, use of face masks, maintaining social distancing, and working from home wherever possible.”
Case numbers are monitored by area to enable the government to implement local lockdowns where necessary to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The towns of Luton and Blackburn have been designated ‘areas of intervention’ as part of the government’s watchlist for coronavirus.
An area of intervention is the highest level and is described as an area where there is a “divergence from the measures in place in the rest of England because of the significance of the spread, with a detailed action plan in place, and local resources augmented with a national support.”
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