Germany's coronavirus R rate soars to 1.79

Germany’s coronavirus R rate soars to 1.79 triggering fears of a second wave of cases after more than 1,000 slaughterhouse staff catch Covid-19

  • The statistic suggests every 10 people infect another 18 with Covid-19 
  • Countries must keep the rates below 1 in the long term to shrink their outbreaks
  • A slaughterhouse in the country’s north-west has become hotbed of cases 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The reproduction rate of the coronavirus in Germany has soared to 1.79, putting the country at risk of a surge in new cases.

A report from the Robert Koch Institut, the country’s disease control organisation, revealed that the predicted R rate almost doubled in a day from 1.06 on Friday.

It is crucial that countries around the world keep their R rates below one in order for the pandemic to come under control.

The number means simply how many people an average Covid-19 patient will infect – 1.79 means every 10 people infected will pass it on to 18 (17.9) others and the outbreak will continue to grow.

In the UK the R is believed to be between 0.7 and 0.9, with it highest in London and the Midlands where it could be up to 1.

Germany has been hailed for getting its Covid-19 epidemic under control faster and with fewer deaths than many comparable countries, but suffered a disaster this week when more than 1,000 employees at a slaughterhouse caught the virus. 

The country also recorded its highest rise in cases for more than a month on Friday, with 770 people testing positive, taking the total to almost 190,000.

The German military has had to set up a coronavirus testing facility at the Tönnies meat factory in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, western Germany, where more than 1,000 staff have now tested positive for Covid-19

Police vans are pictured outside the headquarters of Tönnies in  Germany – hundreds of staff working for the meat-packing company have caught the coronavirus this week

The Robert Koch Institut (RKI) attributed the rising R to a number of local outbreaks.

The most high-profile of these has been a surge in cases at a slaughterhouse run by the company Tönnies in Rheda-Wiedenbrück in the northwest, near Dortmund.

At least 1,029 staff there have now tested positive for Covid-19, Deutsche-Welle reported, and the military has had to set up a testing facility on-site. 

Officials in the North Rhine-Westphalia region said they have also seen outbreaks in logistics centres, refugee centres, church communities and after family parties.

Scientists have reassured, however, that the R value becomes less important when overall numbers of cases are low.

If there are fewer people infected it is more likely that a sudden outburst of cases will make the R look higher than it is because of one ‘super-spreading’ event. 

This does not mean that the outbreak is out of control, as long as the R can be returned to normal soon.     

The RKI said: ‘Since case numbers in Germany are generally low, these outbreaks have a relatively strong influence on the value of the reproduction number.



Every infectious disease is given a reproduction number, which is known as R0 – pronounced ‘R nought’.

It is a value that represents how many people one sick person will, on average, infect.


The R0 value for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was estimated by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team to be 2.4 in the UK before lockdown started.

But some experts analysing outbreaks across the world have estimated it could be closer to the 6.6 mark.

Estimates of the R0 vary because the true size of the pandemic remains a mystery, and how fast the virus spreads depends on the environment.

It will spread faster in a densely-populated city where people travel on the subway than it will in a rural community where people drive everywhere.


It is thought to be at least three times more contagious than the coronavirus that causes MERS (0.3 – 0.8).

Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases, and has an R0 value of 12 to 18 if left uncontrolled. Widespread vaccination keeps it suppressed in most developed countries.

Chickenpox’s R0 is estimated to be between 10 and 12, while seasonal flu has a value of around 1.5.


The higher the R0 value, the harder it is for health officials control the spread of the disease.

A number lower than one means the outbreak will run out of steam and be forced to an end. This is because the infectious disease will quickly run out of new victims to strike. 


Experts use multiple sources to get this information, including NHS hospital admissions, death figures and behavioural contact surveys which ask people how much contact they are having with others.

Using mathematical modelling, scientists are then able to calculate the virus’ spread.

But a lag in the time it takes for coronavirus patients to fall unwell and die mean R predictions are always roughly three weeks behind.  

‘A nationwide increase in case numbers is not anticipated.’

When smoothed for short-term effects, the RKI estimated the country’s true reproduction rate was 1.55, up from 1.17 on Friday. 

On Friday the RKI reported Germany’s highest daily increase in coronavirus cases in a month when it listed 770 new confirmed cases, taking the country’s total to 188,534.

A flurry of positive tests from the slaughterhouse outbreak contributed to the biggest daily increase since May 20.

The German government has stuck to its course of gradually reopening the country while seeking to clamp down swiftly on localised outbreaks.

A free app launched on Tuesday to help trace people who may have been exposed to the virus has already been downloaded 9.6million times in Germany, which has a population of 83million.

In Britain, the coronavirus’s R rate is still on the brink of spiralling out of control in three regions of England.

SAGE scientists estimate the R to be hovering close to the dreaded number of one in London, the North West and the Midlands, despite being lower for the UK as a whole.

But scientists told MailOnline that using the R to assess the UK’s crisis is becoming less useful because of falling prevalence of the disease in the community.

The R is thought to be between 0.8 and 1.0 in the Midlands, the highest of any region in Britain, and slightly lower in London and the North West, where estimates put it in the range of 0.7 and 1.0. 

Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, said the fewer infected patients there are, the greater the margin for error when estimating the R value, especially when looking at specific areas of the UK.

For example, if there are only 10 cases and one of them infects three people, it would push the R rate up significantly and skew the average.

Professor Heneghan told MailOnline: ‘There is a problem with using the R rate now, as infection comes down to very low levels. 

‘The R will fluctuate, so you would expect the R to become a less accurate measurement of the epidemic. 

‘No-one will get a handle on the R rate when 80 per cent of people are asymptomatic and the virus is circulating at such low levels.

‘What really matters is looking at data such as hospital admissions, 999 calls, GP consultation rates and NHS 111 interactions. And when we look at these, all of them are reassuringly coming down.’

Britain’s ‘Covid-alert’ level was downgraded on Friday from level four to level three after scientists confirmed that the epidemic is shrinking by four per cent every day. 

Government scientists published growth rate data for the first time on Friday. Until now, SAGE had only provided details on the R rate – the average number of people an infected person is likely to pass the virus on to. 

For the UK as a whole, the current growth rate is minus 4 per cent to minus 2 per cent and the estimate of the reproduction number, referred to as R, remains at 0.7 to 0.9. 

The growth rate reflects how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, and, as the number of infections decreases, is another way of keeping track of the virus.

If the growth rate is greater than zero, and therefore positive, then the disease will grow, and if the growth rate is less than zero, then the disease will shrink.

It is an approximation of the change in the number of infections each day, and the size of the growth rate indicates the speed of change.

It takes into account various data sources, including government-run Covid-19 surveillance testing schemes. For example, a growth rate of 5 per cent is faster than a growth rate of 1 per cent, while a disease with a growth rate of minus 4 per cent will be shrinking faster than a disease with growth rate of minus 1 per cent.

The coronavirus reproduction ‘R’ rate – the average number of people each patient infects – is still hovering around the dreaded level of one in three regions in England. Rising above one would cause infections to grow exponentially

R estimates – which are at least three weeks behind – do not indicate how quickly an epidemic is changing and different diseases with the same R can result in epidemics that grow at very different speeds.

Growth rates provide different information from R estimates, by suggesting the size and speed of change, whereas the R value only gives data on the direction of change.

To calculate R, information on the time it takes for one set of people in an infected group to infect a new set of people in the next group is needed.

However, the growth rate is estimated using a range of data similar to R, but it does not depend on the ‘generation time’ and so requires fewer assumptions to estimate.

Neither measure – R or growth rate – is better than the other but each provides information that is useful in monitoring the spread of a disease. Experts say each should be considered alongside other measures of the spread of disease. 

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