Coronavirus: UK R number ‘between 0.8 and 1’

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The UK’s R number, a measure of whether the epidemic is growing or shrinking, is at or below one for the first time since early December.

The government’s scientific advisors have estimated the virus is reproducing at a rate of between 0.8 and 1.

Anything below one means infections are in retreat.

Meanwhile Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggest cases are decreasing slightly or levelling off across Britain.

In Northern Ireland, however, cases have continued to rise and the new, more infectious strain has overtaken the older variant of the virus as of the start of January.

The proportion of people testing positive for the new Covid variant has risen considerably in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, ONS data suggest.

But the new strain, which remains by far the main source of infections in England, has yet to overtake the old strain in Scotland and Wales.

Within England, the proportion of infections that appear to be due to the new variant remained stable, but the gap between the regions is narrowing.

In the figures covering 2 January, 80% of infections looked like the new variant in London compared to 30% in the North East.

Two weeks later, that gap had narrowed to 70% in London versus 50% in the North East.

It’s not clear what is behind the small fall in London, but it may be down to behaviour change, or other variants like the South Africa strain now in circulation and diluting the numbers.

During the week ending 16 January, about one in 55 people in England had the virus, the ONS estimated, with one in 35 in London testing positive.

One 100 people had the virus in Scotland, one in 70 in Wales and one in 60 in Northern Ireland.

In the week to 2 January, when this data was last released, an estimated one in 200 people in Northern Ireland were testing positive.

A survey by tech company ZOE and King’s College London, based on swabs of people with and without symptoms, suggested the R number could be at 0.8.

It suggested symptomatic cases had fallen by a quarter since last week.

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