Health

Coronavirus ‘R’ rate could be as low as 0.5 outside of hospitals, SAGE scientists say


NEWLY released documents have suggested the “R” infection rate of coronavirus in the UK is far lower than previously thought.

The “R” rate – the average number of people each person with the virus infects – has been estimated to be between 0.5 and 0.9.

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 The high 'R' rate is due to the high number of infections in hospitals and care homes, it's suggested

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The high ‘R’ rate is due to the high number of infections in hospitals and care homes, it’s suggestedCredit: PA:Press Association

Scientists and government officials have been using the “R” value to help them determine how to tackle the spread of Covid-19 and easing of lockdown measures.

Government scientists have refused to break down the reproduction value into separate numbers for community, hospitals and care homes during the daily press briefings.

But the documents have suggested that in the community as a whole the “R” rate is much closer to 0.5.

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE, said that cases of infections in care homes and hospitals are pushing up the overall R number.

The admission may provide some comfort to those fearful of becoming infected who are outside of hospitals and care home settings.

The real community number has shown that the spread of the disease is not as alarming as the overall figure would suggest.

WHAT IS THE R RATE?

R0, or R nought, refers to the average number of people that one infected person can expect to pass the coronavirus on to.

Scientists use it to predict how far and how fast a disease will spread – and the number can also inform policy decisions about how to contain an outbreak.

For example, if a virus has an R0 of three, it means that every sick person will pass the disease on to three other people if no containment measures are introduced.

It’s also worth pointing out that the R0 is a measure of how infectious a disease is, but not how deadly.

A large number of papers were released late yesterday afternoon including the minutes of 34 of the SAGE committee’s meetings since they began meeting on the virus in January.

Minutes of the SAGE meeting on May 5 said: “The overall epidemic can be considered as three separate but interacting epidemics: In the community; in hospitals and in care homes.

“The overall reproduction number, R, is in the range 0.5 to 0.9. If health and social care settings are excluded it is likely to be at the lower end of this range.”

Further documents released by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling warn that up to 90 per cent of care homes could be infected with Covid-19.

Numbers released by Public Health England and the Care Quality Commission two weeks ago found that four in ten homes had been infected with the virus so far.

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But the scientists in this group warned that “a figure approaching 90 per cent cannot be ruled out if current trends are maintained”.

The document was written on April 20 when the virus infection rates continued to rise in care homes across the UK.

Minutes from a meeting in February suggested that the public would react with “complacency and scepticism…until the first confirmed domestic fatality”.

On March 3, a SAGE meeting said there was “no evidence that cancelling large events would be effective” and closing bars and restaurants “would have an effect, but would be very difficult to implement”.

 The new figure was revealed from minutes from SAGE meetings

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The new figure was revealed from minutes from SAGE meetingsCredit: PA:Press Association
Sir Patrick Vallance warns of caution with R rate number still close to 1 as lockdown measures are eased





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