U.K. Warns Covid-19 May Be Spreading as Birmingham Put on Alert
A jogger runs along the Thames Path near the River Thames past the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

U.K. Warns Covid-19 May Be Spreading as Birmingham Put on Alert

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Boris Johnson’s scientific advisers warned the coronavirus pandemic may be growing again, as ministers put the U.K.’s second-largest city on alert and tightened rules in parts of northwest England.

The U.K.-wide ‘R’ number is in a range of 0.9-1.1, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said Friday in an emailed statement, which also warned that infections could be rising in London, as well as in northwest and southwest England. A rate above one means the virus can begin to spread uncontrollably again, with a single case potentially infecting more than one other person.

“SAGE does not have confidence that R is currently below 1 in England,” the panel said. “Recent changes in transmission are not yet fully reflected in these estimates because the data used to calculate R and growth rate reflect the situation from a few weeks ago.”

It’s the first time in months that the government’s scientific advisers have said the nationwide reproduction rate of the virus could be above one, emphasizing the quandary for the prime minister as he seeks to continue opening up the economy in the wake of the lockdown that began in March. Officials have said repeatedly that any relaxation of pandemic measures must not allow the transmission rate to go above that level.

RegionRGrowth rate % per day
U.K.0.9-1.1-3 to +1
England0.9-1.0-3 to 0
East of England0.8-1.0-3 to 0
London0.9-1.1-2 to +1
Midlands0.8-1.0-4 to 0
North East and Yorkshire0.8-1.0-4 to 0
North West0.9-1.1-2 to +1
South East0.8-1.0-4 to 0
South West0.8-1.1-1 to +2

Responding to local outbreaks, the Department of Health tightened social-distancing measures in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn in northwest England. Residents there were told they should not socialize -- either indoors or outdoors -- with anyone from outside their household.

At the same time, ministers added the city of Birmingham to a watchlist of areas that may require further intervention, with an increase of testing and contact tracing. In Northampton, a Greencore Group Plc food factory voluntarily closed on Friday after almost 300 employees tested positive for coronavirus. Workers and their families will be required to self-isolate for two weeks.

But it wasn’t all bad news: pandemic measures will be eased in Wigan, Rossendale and Darwen from Aug. 26, the Department of Health said.

“To prevent a second peak and keep Covid-19 under control, we need robust, targeted intervention where we see a spike in cases,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in the statement. “The only way we can keep on top of this deadly virus is through decisive action led by the people who know their areas best, wherever possible through consensus with a local area.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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