Even if Covid R rate hits 1.3 as pubs reopen hospitals WON'T be swamped, Sage predicts

THE UK’s R rate could cross the critical level of one as lockdown eases.

But it won't cause hospitals to become overwhelmed, Sage scientsts have said, thanks to vaccine deployment.

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The R rate represents how many people an infected Covid patient passes the virus onto.

It goes up or down depending on how much people are socialising, which is why it always comes down during lockdown. 

An R rate above 1 says the outbreak is shrinking, while above 1 means it is growing – and cases will continue to rise.

The R rate for England has been estimated to be between 0.8 and 1 for three weeks running.

In Sage documents published today, scientists used an R rate of 1.3 to model the “possible impact of easing restrictions from 29th March”.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O) also looked at R values of 0.8 and 1.1.

The team looked at "how hospital admissions could increase" with these R rates running for four weeks from March 29 to April 20.

SPI-M-O said “these scenarios assume R values… to illustrate what SPI-M-O consider to be a plausible range of possible trajectories for COVID-19 hospital admissions in England”.

Under an R value of 1.3, hospital admissions could continue going down as they currently are before rising again

However, they would remain at around 200 per day.

At the moment 180 people are being admitted to England hospitals per day, on average.

The R rate hasn't been at 1.3 since January 15, around the same time the second wave peaked before improving.

However, in comparison to January, millions of people have been vaccinated, mostly those who are most vulnerable to severe Covid and death.


Therefore even if cases increase, hospitalisations and deaths should not move at the same pace. 

The paper said: “Even under the scenario where transmission increases substantially to R = 1.3, there is not a substantial increase in hospitalisations.”

In a more positive scenario, at an R rate of 0.8, hospital admissions continue to go down to around 50 per day.

The models took into account the impact of vaccines – school reopenings and the Easter holidays.

But in reality, it’s not clear how the R rate will change as lockdown is eased, as the models can only give a rough idea of what could happen.

The official estimates for the R rate now suggest the reopening of schools on March 8 did not considerably increase the value. 

It does not yet have up-to-date estimations of the R rate following the “rule of six” on March 29.

The next stage of easing restrictions will be a large step – on April 12 seeing beer gardens, hairdressers, salons and gyms reopen. 

Once four to five weeks have passed, ministers will assess whether the stage of unlocking caused the R rate, cases, hospitalisations and deaths to increase.

They will also compare this with the progress of the vaccine rollout, which will be stalled in April due to vaccine shortages, before deciding if the next step on May 17 is safe to go ahead.

But data suggests that the outbreak is moving in the right direction, albeit at a very slow pace.

A study this week suggested the link between deaths and case numbers was finally breaking.

The REACT study – Britain’s biggest infection rate survey and used by the Government – has for the first time shown decreases in deaths driven by the jabs alone.

Today Sage said the growth rate – how much cases are going up or down by – was 4 per cent per day to 0 per day in England.

Prof Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: “The growth rate range for England is -4 per cent per day to 0 per day, which again is exactly the same as last week and the week before. 

“A growth rate of -4 per cent  actually means that the number of new infections is going down, and that, for every 100 new infections today, there will be 96 tomorrow. 

“If that rate continues, the number of new infections would halve in about two and a half weeks. A growth rate of 0 means that infections remain about the same from one day to another.  

“So again, SAGE are saying that probably the number of infections is falling from day to day, but it could just about be static if the true growth rate is at the top of their range.”

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