Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.
The coronavirus R rate has risen dramatically to above 1.0 across most of the UK and could be as high as 1.7, scientists have said.
Official estimates by government scientists put the key figure, which shows how quickly the virus is spreading, between 1.0 and 1.2 across the whole of the UK.
An R rate (reproduction rate) above 1.0 is likely to spark fresh demands for new lockdown measures as it means that the pandemic is growing rather than shrinking.
Detailed figures released by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), a subgroup of SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), on Friday say all regions of England have an R that is “higher than or which spans 1.0”.
Its data put the R rate squarely above 1.0 London and the north-west.
The growth rate, meanwhile, was highest in the north-east and north-west, where they predict it could be as high as 5%.
A separate study by Imperial College London painted a more worrying picture still. Its latest modelling, which drew on a cohort of 150,000 volunteers, put the R number at 1.7.
The research also suggested that coronavirus cases in England were doubling every seven to eight days at the beginning of September.
It found the highest rates among 18 to 24 year-olds, with Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West worst affected.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health, Elliott said: “Our large and robust dataset clearly shows a concerning trend in coronavirus infections, where cases are growing 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 policy-makers are aware of the situation as we cannot afford complacency.”
It comes after Boris Johnson announced the legal limit on social gatherings in England would be cut from 30 to six from Monday.
Asked whether the jump in the virus’ growth meant more stringent lockdown measures were on the cards, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said on Friday: “We keep all measures under review but it was on Wednesday that we set out the steps which are currently required to help us bring the virus under control.”