Covid cases double in week to 'unsettling' levels but R-rate falls and hospitalisations low

THE number of people with Covid has doubled in a week to an "unsettling" level.

But the rate at which the disease is spreading, the official R rate, has dropped.

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Sage scientists, who report to the Government, said today the R rate for England was 1.1 to 1.3, and as high as 1.6 in the South West.

Last week Sage said the R rate was between 1.2 and 1.4.

The Government says the estimates are a better reflection of the situation three weeks ago because of a delay in gathering data.

More up-to-date figures show around one in 260 people had Covid in the week to June 26 – up from one in 440 in the previous week.

The latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal this is the highest prevalence of Covid since the week to February 27.

Prof James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said the figures were "unsettling".

Cases are the highest in people aged 17 (Year 12) to 24 years old, swathes of whom are unvaccinated.

Around 1.7 per cent of people in that group tested positive in the ONS survey, compared with 0.1 per cent in over 70s.

It comes as the nation creeps nearer to July 19, when all restrictions will be dropped. 

Double trouble

The R rate is best below the value of 1 because this means the virus is shrinking.

It represents how many people an infected person passes the virus onto.

At the moment, every 10 people with Covid lead to a further 11 or 13 more cases.

The R rate is as high as 1.6 in the South West, and as low as 1 to 1.2 in London, the East and North West.

Every region has seen a fall in the R rate in this week's predictions.

The ONS stats, and a raft of other figures, reveal a more concerning side of the picture.

ONS said today cases in England have continued to increase for the seventh week running, after signs of a third wave started emerging in the week to May 21. 

An estimated 211,100 people in the country had the disease last week up from 122,500 the week prior.

Covid rates have increased in all regions of England except eastern England and the South West.

The North East had the highest proportion of people of any region likely to test positive: around one in 100. It compares to one in 640 in the South East.

All age groups have seen a rise in cases, except those aged 70 and over, ONS said.

The highest is in people from school year 12 to age 24, with an estimated one in 70 infected.

The figure is not too far from when the ONS said one in 50 people across the country had Covid at the peak of the second wave in January.

What is the R rate?

THE R rate, also known as the reproduction number, helps the government measure the rate of coronavirus infections.

It gives an indication of the number of people that one person with coronavirus is likely to pass it on to.

The R rate is the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person.

If a virus has an R rate of three, it means that every sick person will pass the disease on to three other people if no containment measures are introduced.

But when social contact is reduced, with lockdown measures, it slashes the R rate because people see less friends and family to pass the virus onto.

It will also come down as a result of vaccinations, removing the need for social restrictions.

Measles has an R number of 15 in populations without immunity, which is very high.

Different Covid variants also impact the R number. For example, Public Health England's Dr Susan Hopkins said if the Delta variant was “unmitigated” and left to spread without any measures, the R number could be “greater than five and maybe up to seven”, while the "original" strain from China is thought to have an R rate of between two and three.

Updates to the R rate are published on the government website.

The R rate used to be given for the UK but Sage – the scientific advisory group to the Government – says there is too much uncertainty in the figure to publish anymore. It currently only gives R for England.

Delta ‘serious concerns’

It comes as data from Public Health England revealed Delta coronavirus variant have risen by over 50,000 in the last week.

But a high take up of vaccines across the country has meant that while more people are becoming infected – less are ending up in hospital with the virus.

While cases spiral, hospitalisations and deaths have not grown at a similar rate. 

It shows the vaccines are working to prevent the majority of severe disease – although are not 100 per cent effective.

In the past week there have been 146,360 — a 72 per cent increase in seven days.

But 114 deaths have been recorded over the past week — a ten per cent increase but no where near the figures expected had vaccines not existed. 



Despite this, Prof Naismith said the third wave "will result in lives being blighted".

Commenting on the ONS stats today, Prof Naismith said infections "will accelerate" with the July 19 unlocking, and it "seems now unavoidable that delta will sweep through the unvaccinated".

"Although young people are at much less risk, it’s not zero. A wave on the scale of what now seems likely will result in lives being blighted", Prof Naismith said.

But he added: "Without vaccines, however even these numbers and this trajectory would spell disaster.

"The Delta variant is still growing despite track and trace, despite testing, despite restriction and despite masking."

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology, University of Warwick, also warned of long Covid.

He said: “We may have weakened the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths but this significant increase in infections with the Delta variant raises serious concerns.

“As the virus continues to spread in those who are unvaccinated or have only received one jab it will result in more disease, including increasing the burden of long Covid. 

“We are already seeing some of those who have been fully vaccinated getting infected and some of those become sick. 

“And there is another worry – that as the virus spreads it will continue to generate new variants increasing the risk that one will pop up that is more vaccine resistant.”

Prof Lawrence said the data “is important to consider in the decision to open up on the 19th July”.

Officials have said they will keep their eye on the data in the lead up to what’s been dubbed “Freedom Day”.

But the PM and Health Secretary are keen on sticking to the “terminus” date and are unlikely to backtrack now.

Boris Johnson yesterday gave his clearest indication yet that he will push forward with the full unlocking later this month. 

He said: “It looks ever clearer … the speed of that vaccine rollout has broken that link between infection and mortality and that’s an amazing thing.

“That gives us the scope, we think on the 19th to go ahead, cautiously, irreversibly."

The Sun has learnt the PM’s National Economy Recovery Taskforce have discussed a “maximalist” approach lifting “non-pharmaceutical interventions” like masks and staying apart everywhere except a small list of confined places like public transport.

It's likely masks will be binned in shops and pubs, but may be kept elsewhere.

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