THE official R rate has stayed stable as experts predict one in 75 people have Covid.
The Delta variant, making up almost 100 per cent of Covid cases in the UK, is expected to keep driving infection rates up.
The R rate in England and by region
Now that Britain’s four nations are easing up on restrictions, with England’s “Freedom Day” on Monday, it means the virus is more able to spread in a race against vaccine deployment.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says nearly three-quarters of a million people in England are likely to have had Covid-19 in the week to July 17.
It’s the equivalent of around one in 75 people, up from one in 95 people in the previous week, and the highest number since the week to January 30.
Meanwhile SAGE – the Government’s scientific advisory panel – predicts the R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4 – the same as last week’s estimate.
The R rate estimates are highest in the East and South West, at 1.3 to 1.5, and lowest in the North West at 1 to 1.2.
The R rate – how many people an infected person spreads the virus to – needs to stay below 1 in order for the outbreak to get smaller.
But it’s unlikely to do so any time soon as people are seeing more friends and family now restrictions have loosened.
There is a slight delay with scientists’ workings out, however, with the R rate more reflective of the situation three weeks ago.
Any change to the R rate caused by more socialising since Freedom Day won’t become clear for some time.
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It comes as:
ONS data, published today, reveals the number of people with Covid last week was up in every part of the UK.
Around one in 210 people in Wales are estimated to have had the virus and one in 170 in Northern Ireland – the highest figures since February.
The rate for Scotland is the highest since the ONS survey began in October 2020, at one in 80.
Signs of plateau?
In a glimmer of hope, the ONS stats show there were no increases in prevalence rates in two parts of England – the North East and North West.
Graphs show the rate may actually be coming down in the North East.
However, it still has the highest level of positivity compared to the other regions.
We have not yet seen the effect of lifting of final restrictions on 19 July on numbers, nor have we yet seen how school summer holidays may take some heat out of the infection numbers
Dr Simon Clarke
Other data from Public Health England suggests the North East is battling the highest infection rates of all the country.
But that the South West is seeing the largest hikes in case numbers of all regions.
Meanwhile the ONS data also shows there may be an improvement in case rates in school kids in England.
The percentage of people testing positive increased for all age groups other than those in Year 7 to Year 11, where it could be flattening out.
Prevalence of Covid is second highest in this age group after those aged between Year 12 and 24 years old.
It’s hoped the summer school holidays will help drive down infections as kids will be mingling with each other less.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said school holidays may take “some of the heat out of the infection numbers”.
“However, any good news about lower cases as schools close can expect to be reversed come September”, he said.
Easing of restrictions will alow the virus to spread more. Pictured: People wearing fae coverings on the London UndergroundCredit: EPA
Prof Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said any possible dips in case numbers seen now – including in the Government’s daily figures – may be because “many children are no longer being tested as regularly now schools are closed”.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, said vaccinating older kids would “help enormously”.
However, there are no current plans to do so.
Only a small number of children aged over 12 years will be able to get a Covid jab, based on guidance from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The expert panel revealed on Monday it had decided children who are at increased risk of Covid are to be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as are those living with people with weakened immune systems.
Despite some signs of improvement in data, scientists have dampened hopes that the current epidemic is anywhere near over.
Yesterday the Government reported 39,906 new infections, which was almost 18 per cent lower than last Thursday’s figure and down for the first time since May.
But Prof Hunter said: “It is still too early to see any impact of the relaxations of Monday 19th and some of the reduction in cases will be because of many children no longer being tested as regularly now schools are closed.
“I would caution that this may just be a temporary slowing in reports before we start to see a return to exponential growth towards the end of next week as a result of the ending of restrictions last week.”
Experts who run the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app had said last week it looked like the third wave had “peaked” at 33,000 new symptomatic cases a day.
But on Thursday it U-turned and said cases were still rising, after changing its methodology.