COVID-19: England’s R number could be as high as 1 and infections may have stopped shrinking, says SAGE

England’s R number could be as high as 1 and case numbers may have stopped shrinking, according to government scientists’ latest estimates.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) estimates England’s latest R number to be between 0.8 and 1 – up from between 0.7 and 0.9 across the whole of the UK last week.

Its COVID-19 growth rate is now thought to be between -4% and 0%, which means that the number of cases is "broadly flat" or shrinking by up to 4% every day.

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R – or the reproduction number – represents the average number of people someone with coronavirus will go on to infect.

If the figure is above 1 the epidemic will grow exponentially, but if it is below 1 it is getting smaller.

This means that every 10 people who test positive for COVID in England will currently pass it on to an average of eight to 10 others.

This week, scientists have not published a UK-wide estimate as they usually do, claiming that "given the increasingly localised approach to managing the epidemic", those figures are "less meaningful than previously and may not accurately reflect the current picture".

The R number varies from region to region, but all parts of England have an upper boundary of 1, according to the latest estimates.

North East and North West England are the highest at 0.8 to 1, with all other regions falling somewhere between 0.7 and 1.

Case rates appear to be shrinking most in the East of England, where the growth rate is between -6% and -1%, followed by London, the Midlands, the South East and South West, where infections are falling by up to 5% every day.

But scientists caution that those regions’ figures are "based on low numbers of cases" or "dominated by clustered outbreaks" so may not be as accurate as usual.

The latest figures come after lockdown restrictions eased in England on Monday, allowing up to six people or two households to meet in private gardens.

Police forces up and down the country have warned people not to flout the rules this Bank Holiday weekend, as they fear the long weekend and warm weather could encourage people to meet indoors or in large groups.

They say it could ruin progress made by three months of lockdown and the vaccine programme.

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