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Coronavirus UK: SAGE fears R rate could be as high as 1.1


Confusion about the current trajectory of the Covid-19 crisis in the UK was sparked today as SAGE warned the reproduction rate could now be 1.1 but a separate Government study found cases had fallen again.

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) estimates the R value – the average number of people each coronavirus patient infects – is now between 0.9 and 1.1, up from last week’s prediction that it was hovering around 0.8 and 1.0.

Experts say the R needs to stay below one or Governments risk losing control of the epidemic and the virus could start to spread exponentially again. SAGE said it had ‘lost confidence’ the R remained below the danger zone.

SAGE said it was ‘seeing indications that’ coronavirus was resurging in all of the home nations, which has fuelled fears that a second wave of the virus is making its way through the country. In the last week, England’s R value crept up from between 0.8 and 1.0 to 0.9 and 1.0, which has pushed up the overall rate across Britain. Miniature outbreaks in Scotland and Northern Ireland have also contributed to the rise. 

To estimate the R, scientists look at clinical data such as hospital admissions and deaths, as well as behavioural surveys and people’s movement patterns. But SAGE warned that when transmission is as low as it currently is in the UK – around 1,000 people are being diagnosed every day – the R is more volatile. This means it can be skewed upwards by local clusters of infections, which has been seen in swathes of the North West of England. 

The estimate is also based on three week old data due to the lag in time between Covid-19 patients falling ill and appearing in the statistics, meaning it does not paint a real-time picture of the UK’s current epidemic.

SAGE’s warning comes on the same day an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report suggested the epidemic was shrinking, adding to confusion about how the virus is currently behaving. 

The ONS found weekly infections plummeted by a third in a week, with 2,400 people now contracting the disease every day – down 37 per cent from the 3,800 the previous week. 

Statisticians at the Government-run agency said that while cases had been on the climb since July – prompting fears of a second wave – the epidemic’s upward trajectory had now been stopped in its tracks. 

The ONS bases its predictions on 135,808 swab tests taken over seven weeks, out of which 61 people tested positive for Covid-19. The low number of positive tests means its estimates should be treated with caution. 

One of the Government’s top scientific advisers said today that, after reviewing the R rate study and ONS report, they think ‘this is all probably trending upwards, very gently.’ They warned more younger people were testing positive and suggested it was only a matter of time before they began to infect older citizens who are far more vulnerable to Covid-19’s nasty symptoms. 

Meanwhile, the UK announced five more coronavirus deaths today in the preliminary count. NHS England posted all five of the new deaths while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland registered none once again.   

The early count only includes laboratory-confirmed victims in hospitals in England but does take into account deaths from all settings for the rest of the UK. A full round-up of the total number of fatalities — which will encompass all virus victims — will be published by the Department of Health later this afternoon.  

By contrast, six deaths were declared yesterday across Britain and 11 last Friday. Just eight infected patients are succumbing to the illness every day, on average — the first time the rolling mean has dropped into single figures since before lockdown was imposed on March 23.

The Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) estimates the R value - the average number of people each coronavirus patient infects - is now between 0.9 and 1.1, up from last week's prediction that it was hovering around 0.8 and 1.0

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) estimates the R value – the average number of people each coronavirus patient infects – is now between 0.9 and 1.1, up from last week’s prediction that it was hovering around 0.8 and 1.0

The latest growth rate for the whole of the UK is between -3 per cent to +1 per cent. A growth rate between -3 per cent to +1 per cent means the number of new infections is somewhere between shrinking by 3 per cent and growing by 1 per cent every day. The most likely value is towards the middle of the range

The latest growth rate for the whole of the UK is between -3 per cent to +1 per cent. A growth rate between -3 per cent to +1 per cent means the number of new infections is somewhere between shrinking by 3 per cent and growing by 1 per cent every day. The most likely value is towards the middle of the range

The Office for National Statistics estimates 2,400 people are contracting the disease every day, down 37 per cent from the 3,800 the previous week

The Office for National Statistics estimates 2,400 people are contracting the disease every day, down 37 per cent from the 3,800 the previous week

Meanwhile, the UK announced five more coronavirus deaths today in the preliminary count. NHS England posted all five of the new deaths while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland registered none once again

Meanwhile, the UK announced five more coronavirus deaths today in the preliminary count. NHS England posted all five of the new deaths while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland registered none once again

SAGE estimates that the R has risen in four regions of England in the space of a week. London saw its rate go up from between 0.8 and 1.0 to 0.9 and 1.1, while in the North West it jumped from 0.8 and 1.1 to 0.9 and 1.1.

There was a similar trajectory in southern parts of the country, where the virus’s reproduction rate moved from between 0.8 and 0.9 to 0.8 and 1.0 in the South East and between 0.8 and 1.0 to 0.8 and 1.1 in the South West.

Meanwhile, today’s SAGE report also revealed that the growth rate of the UK’s epidemic – which shows how the number of new cases is changing day-by-day — is between minus three and one per cent.

It means the number of new infections is somewhere between shrinking by 3 per cent and growing by 1 per cent every day. The most likely value is towards the middle of the range.

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

If it 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. 

CASES HAVE BEEN GOING UP… BUT HOSPITALS ARE EMPTY, TOP DOCTOR SAYS

Dr Ron Daniels, a consultant in the West Midlands, said there were barely any Covid-19 patients coming into hospitals there, even though cases had been on the rise since July

Dr Ron Daniels, a consultant in the West Midlands, said there were barely any Covid-19 patients coming into hospitals there, even though cases had been on the rise since July

Hospitals are empty despite coronavirus cases having gone up over the past month – and it could be because the most vulnerable to the disease have already died, an intensive care specialist claimed today.

Dr Ron Daniels, a consultant in the West Midlands, said there are barely any Covid-19 patients being admitted despite government infections showing cases had risen throughout July.

More than 1,000 Britons are testing positive for the life-threatening disease each day, on average, data shows – but the figures appears to have started dropping. There are fewer than 100 daily hospital admissions for the virus.

For comparison, up to 5,000 people were diagnosed daily during the darkest days of the crisis in April, and as many as 2,500 of these patients needed hospital care.

However, hospital admission figures at the height of the crisis need to be treated with caution because they were inflated due to a counting error, it emerged last night.

Dr Daniels believes the recent spike in infections is due to young people catching the coronavirus more, who are unlikely to get severely ill and need hospital care.

And older and vulnerable populations may have already had the disease and died, or are being more cautious in fear of catching Covid-19.

Other scientists have theorised the coronavirus has mutated to become less deadly, but this is ‘slightly optimistic’ in Dr Daniels’ eyes.

However, there is some regional variation between the figures.  In the South West of England, the growth rate has increased to between -1 and +2, meaning the outbreak there is likely growing.

In the North West and London, which have been the two worst-hit regions in the country through the crisis, the growth rate is between -2 and +1. In the East, the rate is slightly lower, at between -3 and 0, and almost certainly in retreat.

Scientists are most confident that cases are shrinking in the South East, Midlands, and North East and Yorkshire, where the rate is between -4 and 0. For England as a whole, the growth rate is sitting between -3 and 0. 

It comes after the latest ONS report suggested that cases were declining, despite fears of a second wave and an uptick in positive tests.

The ONS estimated that 24,600 people in England had the coronavirus at any given time in the week ending August 13, the most recent study period.

It suggests 0.05 per cent of the population in England is currently infected with the disease, or around one in 2,200 people.

The ONS estimates that 1,300 people in Wales had Covid-19 at any one time between August 7 and August 13 – one in every 2,100 people.  

The ONS report this week used results from 135,808 swab tests taken over seven weeks, out of which 61 people tested positive for Covid-19. 

People who have coronavirus and are in hospital or care homes are not included in the study, which swabs random households.

Lifting lockdown on July 4 – Super Saturday – does not appear to have led to a spike in the numbers of people catching coronavirus, the ONS reports show. 

There was a small rise in cases in July – the percentage of people testing positive rose to 0.07 per cent in the week ending July 26 – but this appears to have dropped again.

The percentage has remained below 0.1 per cent – one in every 1,000 people – since May 30, showing there have been no drastic increases. 

‘There is evidence that the incidence rate for England has increased in the most recent weeks following a low point in June and appears to have now levelled off,’ the report said. 

Meanwhile, a coronavirus mobile app which suspected patients use to report their symptoms has picked up on three new areas of the UK that could see mini outbreaks. 

Researchers from King’s College London, who run the COVID Symptom Tracker app that is used by millions of Brits, say Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, Dundee City and Nottingham now join the ranks of the worst-hit places in the UK.

They warn of spikes in cases in 10 other parts of England – mostly in the North West, such as Manchester, Blackpool and Holton – but they have already seen lockdown restrictions rolled back due to climbing cases. 

The COVID Symptom Tracker estimated that 20,299 people have Covid that is making them unwell in the UK. The KCL researchers predict there are currently 1,434 daily new cases of the disease in the UK on average, based on testing 8,798 people between August 2 and August 15.

They found Blackpool was the worst hit part of the country, with 0.4 per cent of residents in the area having displayed symptoms.

The seaside resort overtook Halton, in Chesire, where there are now 0.35 per cent of the population people with symptomatic Covid. Manchester rounded out the top three with an infection rate of 0.21 per cent.

But the mobile app identified three areas which are not currently on the Government’s watchlist.

Merthyr Tydfil in Wales now has 0.21 per cent of its population suffering from symptomatic Covid, while in Dundee City it is 0.18 per cent, according to the data. A total of 0.17 per cent of residents in Nottingham – another new entry – are now battling the virus.

Researchers from King's College London, who run the COVID Symptom Tracker app that is used by millions of Brits, say Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, Dundee City and Nottingham should now be monitored closely. The other seven hotspots have already had lockdown restrictions rolled back

Researchers from King’s College London, who run the COVID Symptom Tracker app that is used by millions of Brits, say Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, Dundee City and Nottingham should now be monitored closely. The other seven hotspots have already had lockdown restrictions rolled back

Putting Birmingham under a blanket lockdown is ‘risk averse’ because new cases are being driven by clusters in separate parts of the city, top doctor says 

An intensive care doctor working in Birmingham has said that putting the entire city under lockdown would be ‘risk averse’ because new cases are being driven by clusters in separate parts of the city. 

Dr Ron Daniels, who works for University Hospitals Birmingham, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the increase in coronavirus cases is not a city-wide problem. 

Official figures show Birmingham’s infection rate has more than doubled over the past fortnight to around 25 new cases for every 100,00 people. A handful of wards are seeing a similar amount of new infections, according to government data.

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday chaired a ‘Gold Command’ meeting to discuss the potential of Birmingham being placed under lockdown. 

Council bosses who attended the meeting were desperate to prevent further damage to the already-crippled local economy by avoiding tougher measures like ones imposed in the North West and Leicester. 

Birmingham is expected to be placed on a national ‘watch list’ from today, meaning it will be offered ‘enhanced support’ to avoid further cases.  

Local health bosses warned residents of the city — 1.1million people — that ‘what we do in the next seven days will decide if we go into lockdown or not’.    

Ministers are also expected to announce an update on whether tougher measures will be needed for Oldham, Blackburn and Pendle, where cases were rising. 

In-depth government statistics, which are published on a map by the Department of Health, show no specific wards in Birmingham are responsible for the city's soaring infection rate

In-depth government statistics, which are published on a map by the Department of Health, show no specific wards in Birmingham are responsible for the city’s soaring infection rate 

Official figures show the city of Birmingham's infection rate has more than doubled over the past fortnight, with around 25 new cases of coronavirus for every 100,000 people — up from just 11 in the first week of August

Official figures show the city of Birmingham’s infection rate has more than doubled over the past fortnight, with around 25 new cases of coronavirus for every 100,000 people — up from just 11 in the first week of August

Dr Daniels said: ‘We can’t yet let our guard down against this virus. But the reality is we are seeing regions, and this is not a city-wide problem in Birmingham – these are clusters, they are outbreaks.

‘We need to look very carefully at where we’re seeing localised clusters, localised outbreaks, and we need to consider actions in those regions.

‘But to apply a city-wide lockdown seems a little risk-averse right now to me.

‘And the reason I say that is we are testing more people, that will partly account for the increased number of cases of course, but there are other factors that don’t seem to be being considered.’

He added: ‘I think there are considerations around the positivity rates, but we’re not looking at the case-fatality rates and we’re not looking at hospital admissions.

‘We’ve seen cases go up since the beginning of July, and still our hospitals are relatively empty of patients with this condition.’ 

Birmingham had around 25 new cases of coronavirus for every 100,000 people between August 11 and 17 — up from just 11 in the first week of the month. 

In-depth government statistics, which are published on a map by the Department of Health, show no specific ward in Birmingham is responsible for the city’s soaring infection rate but a handful all have recorded several cases. 

The most up-to-date figures for the postcode map show Rotton Park — in the west of the city and on the border of neighbouring Sandwell — saw the most cases between August 9 and 15 (16). 

Sandwell, which borders Birmingham, Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton, is currently one of the 20 worst-hit places in England with an infection rate of 21.1 cases for every 100,000 people. 

Fifteen cases were recorded in Handsworth South and 13 in Birchfield West. While 12 people were diagnosed with Covid-19 in Bordesley and 11 in neighbouring Small Heath Park, both of which are located just to the east of the city centre.

Thirty-six cases were diagnosed in the three boroughs of Smethwick, which is technically classed as being in the local government authority of Sandwell and not Birmingham.     

 



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