UK COVID-19 R rate rises to 0.9-1.1, epidemic could be growing

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker takes a swab sample in a drive-thru testing centre, following a spike in cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to visitors of a pub in Stone, Britain, July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Carl Recine/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - The reproduction “R” number of COVID-19 infections in the United Kingdom has risen and may now be above 1, the Government Office for Science said on Friday, indicating a risk that the overall epidemic is growing.

The UK R number is between 0.9 and 1.1, the government said, up from 0.8-1.0 last week. The daily growth rate for the UK as a whole is between -3% and 1%, up from -4% to -1%.

The R number represents the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

An R number above 1 can lead very rapidly to exponential growth, although the figures are driven by local outbreaks, and scientists have said that the estimates are less reliable when overall incidence of the virus is low.

“We have been seeing indications that these values may be increasing, with estimated ranges increasing slightly from previous publications,” the Government Office for Science said in a statement, reiterating that scientific advisers did not have confidence that the R number was below 1 in England.

At the end of July, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that the government was reaching the limits of the re-opening of the economy.

But while a rise of COVID-19 infections in July led to a postponement of the latest stage of the relaxation of restrictions, that further easing of lockdown resumed a week ago.

A spokesman for the government said the slight increase in the rate of infection is a reminder of the need to take action to stop the spread of the virus.

However, the spokesman said the R number is only an estimate with a high degree of uncertainty and that the government is in a better position to deal with the virus than at the start of the pandemic.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison