Britain’s coronavirus death toll rose by 202 today in the lowest Friday jump in 12 weeks, taking the UK’s total victims to 41,481.
More than 292,000 people in Britain have now tested positive for the virus, after a further 1,541 patients were diagnosed in the last 24 hours.
Today’s death figure marks the smallest Friday rise since March 20, three days before the country went into lockdown, when there were just 36 coronavirus fatalities.
But, in a worrying development, officials warned today the virus’s reproduction rate has now risen to between 0.8 and 1.0, after potentially being as low as 0.7 last week.
The East of England is the only region where officials are confident that the ‘R’ is definitely below one.
The R represents how many people one infected patient will pass the disease on to, and keeping it below one is critical to stop the outbreak growing exponentially.
In other coronavirus developments today:
- The head of the UK’s largest teaching union has been blasted for describing the Government’s primary school U-turn, which will mean thousands of children missing out on lessons, as a ‘win’;
- The Office for National Statistics thinks just 33,000 people in the community are infected with Covid, in a major boost for the country’s fight against the disease.
- London was still the worst-hit area in the UK but coronavirus death rates in northern regions are narrowing the gap, according to the ONS.
Government officials have urged caution about drawing hard and fast conclusions about its reproduction value estimates.
It says that, as the crisis continues to peter out in the UK, predicting the R with accuracy becomes increasingly more difficult.
The fewer infected patients there are, the greater the margin for error, especially when looking at specific regions of the UK.
If there are only 10 cases and one of them infects three people, it pushes the R rate up significantly and can skew the average.
WHAT IS THE R NUMBER? AND HOW IS IT CALCULATED?
WHAT IS R0?
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.
WHAT IS THE R0 FOR COVID-19?
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.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER VIRUSES?
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.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A LOW R0?
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.
HOW IS IT CALCULATED?
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.
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics said today it thinks just 33,000 Britons currently have Covid-19, in a massive boost for the UK’s fight against the disease.
The data, based on testing of almost 20,000 people in the community, shows the number of people with the virus outside of hospitals and care homes is tumbling.
The ONS’ 33,000 prediction does not include hospital and care homes, where there are still more than a thousand new cases every day, but the virus is fading among members of the public.
When the same estimates were published on May 28, just a fortnight ago, they suggested 133,000 people were carrying the virus, many without knowing it.
But England’s outbreak is continuing on a ‘clear downward trend’, statisticians say, with around 31,600 new infections each week – around 4,500 per day.
This shows that, as the R value remains below one – the latest estimate is between 0.7 and 0.9 – fewer and fewer people are contracting the deadly virus.
The ONS data says just 0.06 per cent of the population is infected, showing the infection rate is now around one positive case in every 1,790 people in the community.
And this week’s report, which relates to the period between May 25 and June 7, is recent enough to include the effects of the first easing of lockdown measures, when the rules on spending time outside were relaxed on May 13. This does not, according to the ONS data, appear to have led to rise in cases.
Statisticians wrote in their report this morning that a complex investigation of the data ‘confirms there is a clear downward trend’ but warned about interpreting raw figures.
The range of possible current cases is somewhere between 14,000 and 68,000, the statisticians said, while somewhere between 22,700 and 43,5000 new cases were appearing each week.
They added: ‘As the proportion of those testing positive in England is decreasing over time, it is likely that the incidence rate is also decreasing.
‘However, because of the low number of new positive cases, we cannot currently measure a statistically significant reduction.’
ONS estimates were based on just 11 positive tests from a sample of 19,933 people tested across 9,179 households.
Although the small numbers mean one error in either direction could significantly change the estimate, it suggests a tiny proportion of the population has Covid-19.