Coronavirus Spread Slows Across England as Regulations Tighten

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The spread of coronavirus is slowing across England, as Boris Johnson imposes tighter restrictions on parts of the north and Midlands in order to rein it in further.

The rate of growth in the virus, or R rate, is about 1.2 to 1.4 across the U.K. -- down from 1.3 to 1.5 a week earlier, according to estimates released on Friday by the government’s scientific advisers, who said the rate of spread has declined across six of England’s seven regions.

While any R rate above 1 means the pandemic is spreading exponentially, the slower rate provides a glimmer of hope for ministers as they seek to turn the tide of the resurgent virus. On Thursday, Johnson’s government imposed the toughest restrictions in its three-tier system on Coventry, Slough and Stoke-on-Trent in order to crack down on burgeoning local outbreaks. They will apply from midnight Friday.

“There are clear signs that our collective actions are working,” Johnson said on Thursday, pointing out that the R number is about half its natural rate if no measures had been taken to counter the virus.

There’s still cause for caution: Separate survey data from the Office for National Statistics on Friday suggested that in the week through Oct. 16, there were about 35,200 new cases of coronavirus per day in England, up from 27,900 the previous week.

RegionLatest R NumberLast Week
U.K.1.2-1.41.3-1.5
England1.2-1.41.2-1.4
East of England1.2-1.41.3-1.5
London1.1-1.31.1-1.4
Midlands1.1-1.31.2-1.5
North East and Yorkshire1.1-1.31.3-1.4
North West1.1-1.31.3-1.5
South East1.2-1.51.3-1.5
South West1.3-1.61.3-1.6

There’s also cause for caution on the R rate numbers, which can take as long as three weeks to reflect the actual picture because of the lag between a person catching the virus and developing symptoms or requiring hospital treatment.

The lag suggests the spread of the virus was already slowing before the government tightened restrictions in places such as London, Liverpool and Manchester in recent weeks. Nevertheless, as long as the number is above 1, the virus will continue to grow.

“The rate of growth isn’t as high as it was in some areas, but overall, this is growing, continues to grow, R is above 1, and therefore we should expect to see greater numbers,” Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said on Thursday. He estimated the size of the epidemic is doubling every 14 to 18 days.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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