The R rate of the coronavirus in Britain is now 0.9 meaning the outbreak has started shrinking and the ‘end is in sight’ for the second wave, scientists on the Covid Symptom Study claimed today.
Professor Tim Spector, the King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the project, today revealed his most up-to-date data shows that the R – the number of people infected by each individual case – is the lowest it has been since August and that rates of new disease are ‘falling slowly’ to below 36,000 new infections per day.
Professor Spector said the dropping R rate was proof that people’s behaviour during local lockdowns had already started bringing infections down, while the effects of England’s national restrictions will show through in data in the coming days and weeks.
The study is based on health reports from more than a million users of the Covid Symptom Study app, made by health-tech company ZOE, and coronavirus test results logged by volunteers as well as official data.
Although unofficial, it has been consistently estimating infection rates and the R value across the UK since the start of the pandemic.
It is more optimistic than SAGE’s official R rate, which was last week said to be somewhere between 1.1 and 1.3. Even SAGE’s rate, however, has been creeping downwards, dropping from a possible 1.3 to 1.6 for the UK in October.
The Covid Symptom Study now suggests that some 35,963 people are catching symptomatic Covid-19 each day in Britain, down from 44,000 per day at the end of October.
The team’s estimates are lower than those produced by the ONS – which last week said there were 45,700 infections per day – but have followed roughly the same trend during the second wave, with both now suggesting cases are coming down.
Professor Spector said new coronavirus infections are declining across England, and now sit – for the whole UK – at around 36,000 per day
A soldier is pictured staffing a coronavirus swab testing centre at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool
Professor Spector said today: ‘The R value for all the regions of the UK is now below one, which means that the number of daily new cases is declining as each infected case is infecting less than one new person.
‘The data shows that the second wave peaked at the end of October when it was 1.1. The number of new cases in the worst affected area, the North West, are now at the same level they were at the beginning of October and have an R value of 0.8.
‘This is great news for the UK, and suggests that the population’s behaviour was already having an impact before the further lockdown restrictions were brought in. With the numbers coming down and the news of a vaccine, it feels more and more like the end is in sight.’
The R rate is a scientific measure of how fast the virus is spreading and is an estimate of how many people each person with coronavirus infects. A R of one means each infected person gives the illness to one other. The figure must come below one and stay there for an outbreak to shrink.
The Covid Symptom Study estimates that the current R rate for England as a whole is 0.9, meaning every 100 people with coronavirus pass it on to 90 others, who then pass it to 81, to 73 and the outbreak shrinks accordingly.
Most nations and regions have the same 0.9 rate – Wales, Scotland, North East England and Yorkshire, and the East of England. It is slightly higher in the South East and South West of England, at 1.0 – meaning the outbreak is stable.
And it’s slightly lower than average in the North West of England and Northern Ireland, which have rates of 0.8.
Although the King’s estimate is not official and only accounts for people who actually get symptoms of the disease – many people don’t ever realise they’re ill – it adds to a raft of data showing that the outbreak was at least flattening, if not even declining before the second lockdown began.
The Covid Symptom Study estimates that the number of people catching coronavirus each day in the UK is now lower than 36,000 and has been declining since a peak of around 44,000 per day in late October
SAGE’s official estimate of the R rate of the coronavirus dropped in five regions of England last week and stayed stable at between 1.1 and 1.3 in England and the UK as a whole. Last week marked a drop from 1.2 to 1.4 the week before
The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – which runs a massive government surveillance scheme that randomly swabs tens of thousands of people to track the size of the outbreak – suggested that the country’s outbreak had started to shrink at the end of October.
‘NO CHANCE’ RAPID COVID TESTS WILL GET UK BACK TO NORMAL
There’s ‘absolutely no chance’ the Government’s new 15-minute coronavirus tests are accurate enough to get life back to normal, a leading expert warned today.
It emerged last night ministers are set to buy up to 200million of the £5 kits, which are made by US company Innova and give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ diagnostic result in a quarter of an hour.
UK is set to buy 200million Innova test kits
They have been heralded as a key to unlocking the economy when the second lockdown ends, allowing people with a negative result to visit the theatre, cinema or a sports event.
But Professor Jon Deeks, a biostatistician from the University of Birmingham, warned they could be ‘dangerous’ if Brits who test negative see it as a green light to visit elderly grandparents.
Trials of the devices by Public Health England and Oxford University found they could detect up to three in four positive cases.
But, after poring over the data, Professor Deeks said they could actually miss half of all infections when they are used in real world scenarios rather than in hospitals by a trained nurse – a finding he described as ‘worrying’.
Professor Deeks, who is also head of the Biostatistics, Evidence Synthesis and Test Evaluation Research Group at the university, said on Twitter: ‘Between one in two and one in four current cases of Covid-19 will be missed. Other tests are better.
‘Those getting negative results need to know Covid risk is reduced, but they could still have Covid, and get Covid tomorrow or next week. Harmful for them to think they are Covid-free – especially if they now cuddle their granny.
‘How on earth can we get to a safe ‘test-and-release’ strategy with a test which can miss up to one in two cases? IMHO [In my humble opinion] ABSOLUTELY NO CHANCE!’
It estimated the number of people getting infected each day dropped 12 per cent in a week from 51,900 to 45,700 in the seven-day spell ending on October 31 – the same day Boris Johnson announced the country was heading into another devastating lockdown.
And a MailOnline analysis of Public Health England (PHE) statistics showed more than half of local authorities across England saw their infection rates fall at the end of October.
Rates were even falling in areas that weren’t in Tier Two or Three lockdowns, suggesting national rules such as the 10pm curfew and rule of six were helping.
But amid growing calls on Number 10 to re-evaluate whether there is truly any need for the entire nation to be hit by the toughest rules since the spring, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Friday: ‘The lockdown is for four weeks to the 2nd December. As we have said the trend of hospital admissions are going up.’
The promising update comes as Britain’s prospects of having a coronavirus vaccine by next month leapt forward this week when pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech revealed their jab appears to be 90 per cent effective and is reaching the end of its clinical trial.
This week the companies announced that the jab, given to more than 20,000 people in a clinical trial, had allowed the infection of fewer than nine participants, compared to more than 80 in a group given a fake jab.
Britain has already ordered 40million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 10m of them could become available before the end of 2020.
Boris Johnson this week called on Britons to stick to current rules to get through the second wave of the coronavirus while promising that the UK will be at the ‘front of the pack’ for a new vaccine after a massive breakthrough.
The FTSE 100 index surged on the back of the bombshell announcement, with shares in airlines and hospitality firms spiking globally – although Zoom saw its value plunge.
At a press conference yesterday, Mr Johnson said the UK was ‘towards the front of the pack’ to get the critical jabs and that enough had been ordered for a third of the population.
However, he warned that the biggest mistake the country could make now was to ‘slacken our resolve’. ‘Now it is more important than ever to follow the rules,’ he said.
Mr Johnson referred to his previous comments about the ‘distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill’ to salvage the situation. ‘I can tell you that tonight that toot of the bugle is louder, but it’s still some way off, we absolutely cannot rely on this news as a solution,’ he said.
‘The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at a critical moment.’
He added: ‘I just don’t want to let people run away with the idea that this development is a home run, a slam dunk, a shot to the back of the net, yet. There’s a long way I am afraid before we have got this thing beaten.’
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam voiced excitement about the Pfizer announcement, saying it boded well for other trial vaccines as they used the same broad approach, targeting the spike proteins of the virus – which it uses to invade cells.
But he also cautioned that ‘one swallow’ did not make a summer and there could not be an easing of social distancing measures yet.
MailOnline understands safety and efficacy data from Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is on track to be published next week, meaning the actual approval process for the jab could begin weeks ahead of Pfizer – offering Britain a second shot of getting a jab before Christmas.
Pfizer’s chairman hailed the breakthrough a ‘great day for science and humanity’ while independent experts said the results were ‘excellent’ and ‘really impressive’.
Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to apply for approval to give out the jab in the US as soon as possible, but they must wait for long-term safety data to be completed. There are also concerns about the logistical challenges of distributing huge numbers of doses, which must be stored at around -70°C (-94°F).