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Coronavirus UK: R rate is UP again to a possible 1.3, SAGE warns

Britain’s coronavirus R rate is UP to 1.5 in London, 1.3 across the UK and RISING in all southern regions as super-infectious variant sweeps across the country

  • New variant hotspots London and the East of England have the fastest growing outbreaks, experts warn
  • R rate is stable in Midlands, North East and North West, with large parts in Tier 3 since October 
  • London and most of South East are now in Tier 4, and lockdown is expected to expand later today
  • It comes as a new, more infectious variant is becoming the dominant strain in South and spreading UK-wide

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The coronavirus R rate in Britain has risen to between 1.1 and 1.3 and it is at least one or higher in every region of England except the North East and North West.

Government advisers on SAGE today estimated the outbreak is spreading fastest in London and the East of England, where the R could be as high as a shocking 1.5.

R is a number used to show how many people each person who catches the coronavirus infects before they recover. It must be at one or lower to stop the outbreak shrinking.

This week marks the third week in a row that the figure has risen since the national lockdown brought it down to 1.0 in November. 

SAGE, which is headed up by chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance, said: ‘All NHS England regions have R estimates that are above or span 1, suggesting the epidemic is growing in much of the country, with London, the South East, and the East of England clearly above 1.’

The estimates, which take into account data up to December 18 so don’t include any effects of the Tier Four rules in London and the South East, come as a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus is fast becoming dominant in the South.

The variant, now known as B.1.1.7, has spread like wildfire across the capital and home counties and is thought to be on track to become the main version of coronavirus circulating in the UK.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a prolific epidemiologist and Government adviser dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’, today said it appeared to have triggered ‘explosive outbreaks’ in schools in London.

Concerns about the fast-spreading version of the virus, and surging infection rates – yesterday saw the most cases announced of any day in the epidemic so far – are expected to leave swathes of the country in Tier Four total lockdown rules from Boxing Day, with toughers measures potentially on the cards for Surrey, Essex, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Hampshire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will hold a press conference this afternoon after ministers and scientists met this morning to discuss whether changes need to be made to the tiering system before the planned December 30 review.

West Sussex and the parts of East Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire not already in the top tier could be included as early as Boxing Day.

Also under consideration are Burnley in Lancashire, where the infection rate currently sits at 438 per 100,000 people, and Lincoln and Boston in Lincolnshire, which both have rates in excess of 400.

By contrast, Gosport in Hampshire, which is already under Tier 4 measures, has 159 cases per 100,000 and the Chiltern area of Buckinghamshire has 202. 

The R rate figure is highest in the East of England and in London, with a possible value of between 1.2 and 1.5. This means that every 10 people infected will infect between 12 and 15 further people.

The R value in England as a whole is 1.1 to 1.4, and it’s lowest in the North East and Yorkshire, and in the North West, where it is between 0.9 and 1.1. 

The northern regions are the only places where SAGE thinks the R might be lower than one and that the outbreaks there might be shrinking.

In the South West, which has been one of the least affected parts of the country throughout the year, it is thought to be between 1.0 and 1.2. 

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