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Coronavirus R rate hits 1.7 and cases DOUBLE every week – as Hancock justifies ‘rule of six’

COVID cases are now doubling every week – with the R-rate across England hitting 1.7, according to a study by Imperial College London.

Matt Hancock warns the spike in infections – fuelled by young Brits – justifies the strict new rule of six.

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Experts warned against “complacency” and fear the surge in cases will soon translate to a rise in deaths of vulnerable older Brits.

Imperial College London experts tested more than 150,000 volunteers since August 22.

They found 13 people per 10,000 were infected in England in the fortnight up to September 7.

It compares to just four per 10,000 between July 24 and August 11.

The Imperial study suggests cases are now doubling every seven to eight days, while England’s R rate is 1.7 – and could be as high as 2.5 in the North East.

It means for every person who catches the killer bug, another 1.7 people are infected leading to exponential growth.

In contrast, the weekly update on the R rate from Sage puts England’s value slightly lower, at between 1 and 1.2.

Sage estimates the UK’s R rate is also 1 to 1.2 – with all regions being above 1.

That’s up from their official estimate last week, that put the R rate in the UK between 0.9 and 1.1.

Over time, it could see the epidemic returning to levels seen in late spring unless action is taken to halt the spread.

Health Secretary Mr Hancock said: “The pandemic is not over, and everyone has a role to play.

“It’s so important that everyone abides by the law and socialise in groups up to six, make space between you and those outside your household, get a test and self-isolate if you develop symptoms and wash your hands regularly.”

Scientists found infections have rocketed in all Brits under the age of 65 in recent weeks – with 18 to 24 year olds the most likely to test positive.

Cases are now highest in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West.

The Imperial study also found that infections are no longer clustering in hospitals and care homes.

In May, NHS and social care staff were five times more likely to be infected compared to non-key workers.

But these odds have tumbled, suggesting the majority of spread is now in the community.

Data from the ONS today revealed that cases of the virus have soared by 60 per cent.

The figures stated that in the period from August 30 to September 5 cases were up from 2,000 a day to 3,200 a day.

These rates reflect private households in England.

Professor Paul Elliot, director of the programme at Imperial, said: “There has been a very recent resurgence of infection in England.

“Our large and robust dataset clearly shows a concerning trend in coronavirus infections, where cases are growing very quickly across England and are no longer concentrated in key workers.

“What we are seeing is evidence of an epidemic in the community and not a result of increased testing capacity.

“This is a critical time and it’s vital that the public, our health system and policymakers are aware of the situation as we cannot afford complacency.”

The experts at Imperial state that the findings from its report “enforces the need” for the rule of six.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the ban on gatherings of more than six people would be enforceable by law.

The new tougher restrictions sparked a furious backlash in Cabinet, as senior ministers railed against the new “rule of six”, the Daily Mail reported.

But Matt Hancock is said to have pushed through the measure with the backing of top scientists.

A Cabinet source told the paper: “Everyone apart from Hancock wanted to see the limit on groups at eight or more.

“Even the PM was initially cautious about taking the limit all the way down to six.

“The majority view was that this level of social distancing will have a huge impact on people’s lives and the economy. But Hancock got his way.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma were both said to have pressed for the limit to be cut to eight, not six.

A Downing Street insider last night insisted the PM had not been pressured into announcing the move.

Appearing alongside the PM at the press conference on Wednesday, Chief Medical Officers, Prof Chris Whitty said that increased testing is not behind the recent rise.

“The numbers are going up, really much more rapidly over the last few days. “

He said at the same time, test positivity rates – the number of positive swabs compared to the number of tests done – are “following exactly the same pattern”.

“This makes it clear it is not just because of increased testing, it is a real phenomenon that we are seeing the number of cases going up.”



People caught breaking the new rules will be slapped with £100 fines, doubling for each repeat offence up to £3,200.

Marshals will also be brought in to enforce social distancing in city centres.

The rule of 6 will include children in England, so if there is a household of five with three kids and two parents, they will only be able to meet up with one other person.

Weddings and funerals can go ahead with a limit of up to 30 people in a location that follows Covid-19 guidelines – meaning it cannot be hosted in a home or garden.

Despite these rulings, Scotland and Wales have introduced different rules.

In both Scotland and Wales children are exempt from the rule of six.

The rules have come in as experts claim the R rate is on the up in the UK, with some accusing younger generation of spreading the virus.

Across England the rate is 1.7.

Breaking this down regionally and the South East sits between 1.1 and 1.6, the North East is between 1.2 and 2.5, while the North West sits between 1.2 and 1.6.

In Yorkshire it sits between 1.1 and 1.5, the East Midlands sits between 0.9 and 1.3, while the West Midlands sits between 1.0 and 1.5.

The East of England sits between 1.1 and 1.6, London 1.0 and 1.5 and the South West is between 1.1 and 1.8

Last week Sage estimated that the R rate was at 0.9 to 1.0 across the UK, with London and the South West tipping to 1.1.

When the R value is below 1, it means transmission is low and the epidemic is shrinking – but greater than that number suggests it’s growing.

The values are shown as a range, which means the true R rate most likely lies somewhere between the upper and lower estimates.

The R rate published by Imperial is based on 150,000 volunteers, it is separate from the R rate published by Sage as it uses a longer timeframe.

The Imperial report showed at the start of the epidemic clusters of cases were seen in and around London.

While that pattern remained, local clusters began to emerge in the North West, East Midlands and more recently Yorkshire and the Humber.

The study notes: “Clustering detected in East Midlands was no longer apparent in the most recent data, which may partly reflect successful local lockdowns in that region.”

The study was commissioned by the government and along with advice from Sage is used to advice decision making on how to keep the country safe from the virus.

Professor Paul Elliott, Director of the programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health said the data shows a concerning trend in virus infections where case are growing quickly and are no longer concentrated on key workers.

“What we are seeing is evidence of an epidemic in the community and not a result of increased testing capacity.

“This is a critical time and it’s vital that the public, our health system and policy-makers are aware of the situation as we cannot afford complacency.”

The data on case loads and on the R rate comes after the Office for National Statistics published mortality data on the coronavirus and other conditions.

It compared deaths attributable to Covid against the flu and pneumonia and found that these illnesses are killing ten times as many Brits as the virus.

Of deaths registered in the week ending August 28 in the UK, just 101 mentioned the coronavirus.

The ONS states that 12.6 per cent of deaths were caused by flu and pneumonia, against 1.1 per cent that were caused by Covid-19.

Experts have now warned that while there has been an increase in coronavirus cases, other conditions are also rife in the UK.

Data from the ONS also states that deaths from Covid-19 have decreased.

Comment on the findings from Imperial Dr Zania Stamataki, Viral Immunologist, University of Birmingham said there is a real risk that a surge in cases will transmit to more hospitalisations.

“This detailed study clearly shows how valuable it is for us to continue to monitor infections using testing, and how contact tracing can actually help identify other infected people for isolation even in the absence of symptoms.

“The concerning increase in cases over September compared to the summer months is not unexpected given fewer restrictions, but the Health and Social Care Secretary is right: there are simple actions that each of us can take immediately to limit transmission and we must take personal responsibility.”

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