Covid R rate creeps up and could be 1.1 in parts of UK – amid fears of Indian variant spreading

THE official coronavirus R rate has risen slightly in England this week.

Government advisers at Sage say the value now sits between 0.8 and 1.1.

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It comes as surge testing has been rolled out across the country in order to detect cases of the Indian and South African variants.

Experts fear the Indian variant could be more transmissible than the Kent variant but it is not thought that it can evade vaccines.

Last week the rate sat between 0.8 and 1 – but that it may have been as high as 1.1 in some parts.

The R rate in England has remained relatively constant since February 5, having peaked on January 15 at between 1.2 and 1.3. 

For the last few weeks Sage has been unable to give a rate for the UK as a whole.

When cases are so low, the R rate is a less reliable indication of the spread of infection – this is why when infections are low – as they are now – the rate is widened as measuring it becomes more challenging.

It comes as:

  • Four deaths from Indian variant as cases double in a week
  • Quarter of Brit adults feel overwhelmed by post-lockdown life, survey reveals
  • Where is the Indian variant in the UK? From London to Bolton – map reveals surge testing hotspots
  • Sage graphs predict how Indian variant could trigger biggest wave yet – even WITH vaccines
  • Britain’s lockdown on track to be lifted despite cases of Indian Covid variant doubling

Infection data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) today revealed that cases are still falling despite a growing concern surrounding the Indian variant.

Around one in 1,340 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to May 8 – down from one in 1,180 the previous week

This is the lowest figure since the week to September 5 when the estimate, which is based on a sample of the population, stood at one in 1,400.

Experts however said that infection data would be less clear as cases fall.

Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University said "estimates can't be precise".

He added: "We can be very confident that infection rates are low, but exactly how low is difficult to estimate, and the margins of error are very wide."

While cases are falling, ministers have said they will "do whatever it takes" when it comes to suppressing the virus.

Further coronavirus restrictions are set to be lifted on Monday with pubs being able to serve people inside and over night stays permitted.

While this is set to go ahead, ministers are still concerned about the spread of variants.

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi today said that one option is "flexing" the vaccine rollout to deliver extra jabs to the worst affected parts of the country.

Ministers are looking at the possibility of vaccinating whole intergenerational households in those areas regardless of age.

Another possibility is speeding up the delivery of second doses to give more people a greater level of protection.

Boris Johnson has said No 10 is "anxious" about the spread of the variant and that there "may be things we have to do locally" to stop it.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWN

Looking specifically at the English regions and the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 is thought to have decreased in Yorkshire and the Humber, but the trend is uncertain across the other regions of England, the ONS said.

Yorkshire and the Humber had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to May 8 – around one in 780.

Meanwhile, the West Midlands had the lowest estimate at around one in 3,020.

The R rate is highest in the East of England, the North West and the South West at 0.8 to 1.1.

 

There are several areas in the North West where surge testing is taking place to catch cases of the Indian variant.

Residents in Bolton, Blackburn and Sefton have all been urged to get a test – whether they have symptoms or not in a bid to catch cases.

Across London, the Midlands, North East and Yorkshire and the South East, the R rate is at 0.8 to 1.

SURGE TEST

Surge testing is also taking place in some London boroughs, as well as certain areas in the West Midlands in order to catch cases of the South African variant.

While surge testing is currently taking place in several areas across the capital, these have been specifically rolled out to catch cases of the South African variant.

But the Department of Health said this didn't rule out the surge testing also catching cases of the Indian variant if they were detected.

Cases of the Indian variant have more than doubled in the space of seven days from 520 last week to 1,313 this, sparking alarm in Whitehall.

Professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, Prof Paul Hunter today said: "It's now in most regions of the UK, with the possible exception of Yorkshire and Humber in the North East, which seem to have very few cases so far."

The most recent data from Public Health England (PHE) states that cases of the virus are now rising in 159 areas in the UK.

Two areas where surge testing is being rolled out are also some of the most infected areas in the country.

Bolton in Greater Manchester has the highest rate, with 553 new cases in the seven days to May 9 – the equivalent of 192.3 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from 84.9 in the seven days to May 2.

Erewash in Derbyshire has the second highest rate, up from 65.0 to 181.2, with 209 new cases.

Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire has the third highest, up from 54.1 to 107.6, with 161 new cases.

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