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The government is not certain that the coronavirus R rate is below 1 in England, meaning the disease may not be under control even as lockdown restrictions are being lifted, HuffPost UK can reveal.
According to a classified daily document released by Public Health England to health professionals across the UK, there is “uncertainty” around the figure published by the government, which has been used to justify the lowering of the UK’s “alert level”.
Publicly, the government last stated the R was 0.7 to 0.9 on June 17. If R – short for the reproduction rate of the virus – is greater than 1, the epidemic is generally seen to be growing. If R is less than 1, the epidemic is shrinking.
But a copy of last Thursday’s document, titled “COVID-19 Situation Report” and marked “OFFICIAL SENSITIVE”, states that because of uncertainty in how accurate the figure is “we cannot preclude R being above 1” in England.
It adds that the rate is believed to have risen recently, and explains: “We believe that this is likely to be due to increasing mobility and mixing between households and in public and workplace settings.”
On Tuesday Boris Johnson announced further easing of the lockdown restrictions including allowing two households of any size to meet inside and stay overnight from July 4.
The report also includes other data that have not been made public – most notably that the daily estimate of the number of daily new infections last Thursday stood at 7,000.
This is in contrast to the figure of actual positive tests reported for the same day, which was 1,346.
One health professional, who wished to remain anonymous, told HuffPost UK the information in the PHE report should be made public.
He said: “It really gets my goat – they really should be in the public domain. There’s nothing in it that justifies secrecy and it’s not as though the virus is listening into what we’re saying so it could adapt its strategy.
“The fact that we have to ask if we can share these things is crazy. It’s even crazier that we might be told no.
“There’s a whole other level of pain that this government has made PHE, a civil service body, unable to publish anything, even if it’s in the public interest, until the Cabinet Office and Number 10 have said that they may.”
A government spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “SAGE was totally clear when the most recent UK R rate was released last Friday that it stood at 0.7-0.9.
“The rate for England was also 0.7-0.9.“The latest ONS figures also show that the number of infections is declining.
“Most significantly, the “growth rate” for England alone is at -4 to -1. That means the number of infections is declining daily by between 4 and 1 per cent.”
“All of these figures were signed off by SAGE, on which PHE representatives sit.”