English COVID-19 R number falls to 0.7-0.9, in line with UK

People walk by a social distance sign on a road in St Albans, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), St Albans, Britain, June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra - RC2P7H9EHPXH

LONDON (Reuters) - The COVID-19 reproduction number for England fell to 0.7-0.9, bringing it into line with the rest of the UK, the government said on Friday, as it also published details of how quickly the disease was shrinking for the first time.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he hoped the time of national lockdowns was over after the United Kingdom’s chief medical officers agreed that the COVID-19 threat level should be lowered.

The Government Office for Science said that the growth rate, which captures the size and speed of change, was -4% to -2% in the UK as a whole, and -4% to -1% in England alone.

Those figures indicate the disease is shrinking across the country.

The R number, which gives only information about the direction of change, fell in England to between 0.7 and 0.9, from 0.8-1 last week. The R number for the UK as a whole remained steady at 0.7-0.9.

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.

The only English region where the estimated growth rate included the possibility it could be growing was London, where the growth rate was estimated at between -5% and 1% and the R number was 0.7-1.

Government scientists said the likely estimates were to the middle of the range, and so the disease was likely to be shrinking in all English regions for which data was published.

They also cautioned that as the number of cases decreases, the metrics would become less helpful, and measures of incidence and prevalence of the disease would need to be considered.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison