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What the R rate is and why it’s important

PUBLISHED: 15:08 15 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:14 15 May 2020

A customer wearing a face mask at the Thetford Garden Centre during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A customer wearing a face mask at the Thetford Garden Centre during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Twice as many people are being infected with coronavirus in the North East of England as they are in London, a new study has shown.

Data produced by Public Health England and Cambridge University showing the R value in the East of England and across England. Picture:  Public Health England and Cambridge UniversityData produced by Public Health England and Cambridge University showing the R value in the East of England and across England. Picture: Public Health England and Cambridge University

A report published by Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University has shown the average R rate -or R value- of Covid-19 infections across the country.

In the North East and Yorkshire the R value, a measurement of the number of people an infected person passes coronavirus on to, is thought to be around 0.8, while in the capital it is just 0.4, the lowest in the country.

It means for every 10 people who are infected, they are likely to pass it onto four people, with 24 daily transmissions said to be currently occurring in the capital.

In the East of England the rate of transmission is estimated to be 0.71, one of the lower counts in the country behind London, on par with the south west and below the national average of 0.75.

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street. Credt: 10 Downing StreetPrime minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street. Credt: 10 Downing Street

What is the ‘R’ Number

The R0, pronounced R nought or simply known as the R value, represents how many people are likely to get infected for every one person who becomes ill with coronavirus.

Every infectious disease is given a R value and it helps epidemiologists - scientists who track disease outbreaks - measure how infectious a disease is and the risk it poses to a population.

An R value below 1.0, means an outbreak is shrinking.

R values are not precise or fixed because there are so many variables involved when measuring rates of infection, but they do give scientists a good starting point to understand how a virus is spreading.

Why is the ‘R’ value important?

Handout image issued by Downing Street of Boris Johnson's new Handout image issued by Downing Street of Boris Johnson's new "stay alert" slogan to tackle coronavirus. Photo: Downing Street/PA Wire

Without a vaccine or cure, the R value guides every decision governments make in deciding how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Before lockdown measures were introduced around the world SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, was understood to have an R value of between two to three, although these estimates vary.

Since lockdown the R value has fallen, with the primary reason being that if people do not come into contact with others they cannot pass the virus on, even if they have it.

In the UK, the rate of infection appears to be slowing, with academics at the University of Cambridge reporting that the R value was now firmly under 1.0 - a goal the prime minister has set in order to keep gradually releasing the lockdown in the coming months

But with each relaxation of the rules, comes the risk the R value may start to increase as people begin to move about more freely.

The speed at which lockdown is eased will depend on the R value.

Remind me, what are the government’s five tests for easing lockdown?

The government has set out give tests which must be passed into order so being an easing of lockdown restrictions and so the country can begin to return to some sort of normality.

Some of these have already been met, which is why the government announced a partial easing of restrictions on May 11.

• Test One - Making sure the NHS can cope across the UK

• Test Two - There is a “sustained and consistent fall” in the daily death rate

• Test Three - Reliable data showing the rate of infection is falling to “manageable levels”

• Test Four - Ensuring supplies of PPE can meet demand future demand

• Test Five - Be confident any adjustment in measures does not risk a second peak of infections


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