Deterioration in R number

John @ home

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The deterioration in the R number over the last 3 weeks does not fill me with confidence:​
BBC: Coronavirus R number
15 May 2020​
5 June 2020​
England
NE & Yorks
0.80​
0.89​
Midlands
0.68​
0.90​
East
0.71​
0.94​
London
0.40​
0.95​
South East
0.73​
0.97​
South West
0.76​
1.00​
North West
0.73​
1.01​
N Ireland
0.8 to 0.9​
0.80​
Scotland
0.7 to 1.0​
0.80​
Wales
0.8 to 0.9​
0.80​
Sources
England: Public Health England & Univ. of Cambridge.
N Ireland, Scotland & Wales: Epi Forecasts.
 
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The_Train

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Wow, I'd heard of the North and South West areas finding themselves back up at 1 but didn't realise the whole of England was on the rise. Should be back in lockdown before the mandatory face covering thing comes into force at this rate.
 

furnessvale

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Wow, I'd heard of the North and South West areas finding themselves back up at 1 but didn't realise the whole of England was on the rise. Should be back in lockdown before the mandatory face covering thing comes into force at this rate.
The current lockdown rules are quite sufficient if obeyed. There is no point in tightening rules because people refuse to obey the current ones.
 

edwin_m

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When the government itself treats the lockdown as a joke it's not surprising people don't follow it. The result will just be that it nominally remains in place for a lot longer until casualties fall sufficiently, with far more economic damage than if it had been strictly followed in the last few weeks.
 

Skymonster

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Nothing to see here... The R number was inevitably going to increase once the lockdown was loosened, simply because there was more human interaction. The trick was to keep it below 1, which enables it to start falling again.
 

Bletchleyite

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Nothing to see here... The R number was inevitably going to increase once the lockdown was loosened, simply because there was more human interaction. The trick was to keep it below 1, which enables it to start falling again.
It doesn't even need to fall. The "hammer and the dance" idea is to keep it as close to 1 as possible (because you want to keep as much open as possible) pending a viable treatment/vaccine to stop it killing people.
 

Skymonster

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It doesn't even need to fall. The "hammer and the dance" idea is to keep it as close to 1 as possible (because you want to keep as much open as possible) pending a viable treatment/vaccine to stop it killing people.
Yes, what I effectively meant was that enabling it to drop again will allow more restrictions to be lifted, which in turn will initially cause the number to rise a bit again, etc. It will be cyclical and as long as it remains less than 1 the net is still reducing in size.
 

Huntergreed

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What’s worrying here is the proximity of all regions to “1”. I’m aware that the governments priority is that the R at any time before a vaccine must not go above one, and if these figures are anything to go by, I can’t see much more significant easing for a while or it’ll be above one and result in a much longer lockdown
 

Bletchleyite

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Yes, what I effectively meant was that enabling it to drop again will allow more restrictions to be lifted, which in turn will initially cause the number to rise a bit again, etc. It will be cyclical and as long as it remains less than 1 the net is still reducing in size.
Yes, that's the exact principle. If it's at 0.8, we could open more stuff, we shouldn't leave it there.

The "hammer" was the lockdown, both to get R down and to get the number of daily deaths/cases within what the NHS can cope with on an ongoing, long-term (potentially months or even years) basis.

It appears to me that the UK is following it nearly to the letter (so far).

Here's the main article I've seen describing it:
 

Skymonster

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The media, including the BBC, loves to report negativity, as evidenced by the above. However the other side of this story is (quoting the BBC) “But the death rate is falling, with the most recent review of death certificates showing the lowest number of coronavirus-related deaths since March.” Unfortunately the latter information won’t be made into a headline or even a prominent story.
 

JamesT

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Is the R number an instantly calculated thing, or is it like the number of infections and deaths in that the result lags the actions by several weeks? We've only just really started loosening, should we expect to have seen the effect this soon, or is it something that happened earlier?
 

Puffing Devil

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The media, including the BBC, loves to report negativity, as evidenced by the above. However the other side of this story is (quoting the BBC) “But the death rate is falling, with the most recent review of death certificates showing the lowest number of coronavirus-related deaths since March.” Unfortunately the latter information won’t be made into a headline or even a prominent story.
That all depends on the cause of death being correctly recorded.

If we look at Excess Deaths we're second in the world league table.
 

al78

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The current lockdown rules are quite sufficient if obeyed. There is no point in tightening rules because people refuse to obey the current ones.
Maybe the lack of obeying the rules is a consequence of easing ther restrictions, leading people to think it is not that serious anymore, so why shouldn't they enjoy a warm sunny day on the beach. Those pesky unintended consequences again.
 

northernchris

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Is the R number an instantly calculated thing, or is it like the number of infections and deaths in that the result lags the actions by several weeks? We've only just really started loosening, should we expect to have seen the effect this soon, or is it something that happened earlier?
It was mentioned earlier on the news that its around 2 weeks out of date so doesn't take in to account the latest loosening of the lockdown
 

NorthOxonian

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Yes, that's the exact principle. If it's at 0.8, we could open more stuff, we shouldn't leave it there.

The "hammer" was the lockdown, both to get R down and to get the number of daily deaths/cases within what the NHS can cope with on an ongoing, long-term (potentially months or even years) basis.

It appears to me that the UK is following it nearly to the letter (so far).

Here's the main article I've seen describing it:
I hope not. By the sounds of the article, the "dance" will consist of many months or even years) of misery - with constantly changing draconian regulations. I realise the strategy we take needs to adapt to changes in R number but we can't have a "Vicky Pollard" approach to lockdown.
 

philosopher

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The ONS have said around 5000 were getting infected each day in the last two weeks of May, which is quite a bit less than the 8000 they said were getting infected previously. So if the ONS study is correct then the number of infections is falling quite fast. The ONS study does not cover care homes or hospitals.
 

Enthusiast

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Let me get this right: the fabled "R" number is the average number of people each infected person transmits the virus to. So, to calculate it you need to know (1) how many people currently have the virus and (2) how many people they've passed it on to. Since neither of these is known with any degree of certainty (and some estimates put the true number of infections as up to ten times the official figure) how can the "R" number be calculated to two decimal places and we're expected to take it seriously?

The ONS have said around 5000 were getting infected each day in the last two weeks of May, which is quite a bit less than the 8000 they said were getting infected previously.
How do they know?
 

Mugby

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That all depends on the cause of death being correctly recorded.

If we look at Excess Deaths we're second in the world league table.
Indeed. Today was regarded as a sombre milestone as the number of deaths has topped 40,000. But the figure is wildly inaccurate.

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance stated publicly that:
" Just because Covid 19 was entered on a death certificate doesn't mean that person had the virus, because many of them weren't tested"

I've seen several suggestions that when lockdown was introduced, in March, Government thinking was that the public would comply more readily
if the message was stark and the figures were given as emphatically as possible.

This is something which I hope will be scrutinised very keenly indeed at any future judicial inquiry into the whole affair, which may be held at some point in the future.
 

DerekC

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Indeed. Today was regarded as a sombre milestone as the number of deaths has topped 40,000. But the figure is wildly inaccurate.

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance stated publicly that:
" Just because Covid 19 was entered on a death certificate doesn't mean that person had the virus, because many of them weren't tested"

I've seen several suggestions that when lockdown was introduced, in March, Government thinking was that the public would comply more readily
if the message was stark and the figures were given as emphatically as possible.

This is something which I hope will be scrutinised very keenly indeed at any future judicial inquiry into the whole affair, which may be held at some point in the future.

Wildly inaccurate the figure may be, but it's equally true that just because Covid 19 wasn't mentioned on a deadth certificate the person didn't have it, so I don't think your apparent conclusion that the figures are being exaggerated holds water. The "excess deaths" figures produced by the ONS suggest that 40,000 is in the right ball park for deaths directly attributable to the virus.
 

45107

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Wildly inaccurate the figure may be, but it's equally true that just because Covid 19 wasn't mentioned on a deadth certificate the person didn't have it, so I don't think your apparent conclusion that the figures are being exaggerated holds water. The "excess deaths" figures produced by the ONS suggest that 40,000 is in the right ball park for deaths directly attributable to the virus.
If anything, I suspect that the Covid 19 figures are bring understated. The 'excess deaths' figure is more alarming and why have so many more people passed away during this time period ? (compared with previous years and other countries).
Some of these could be attributed to pre-existing conditions that weren't treated due to the pandemic situation, so in railway terms could be classed as 'reactionary' fatalities.
 

philosopher

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How do they know?
The ONS tested 19,000 people in 9,000 households between 17th and 30th May and 21 of those tested positive, meaning about 0.1% of people in the UK had Covid-19 during this time. I am not sure how they got a figure of 5,000 infections a day from this though.
 

carlberry

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The ONS tested 19,000 people in 9,000 households between 17th and 30th May and 21 of those tested positive, meaning about 0.1% of people in the UK had Covid-19 during this time. I am not sure how they got a figure of 5,000 infections a day from this though.
60 million people in UK which is 3157 times 19,000. 3157 times 21 is about 66,000 so they're assuming people have detectable Covid for 14 days
 

HSTEd

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When the government itself treats the lockdown as a joke it's not surprising people don't follow it. The result will just be that it nominally remains in place for a lot longer until casualties fall sufficiently, with far more economic damage than if it had been strictly followed in the last few weeks.
The problem is the second the lockdown is released... we just get hit by the second wave.
There is no easy way out of this, and a harder lockdown does not actually get us anything unless you can somehow catch every single case - which we can't.
 

xc170

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I'm not sure why so much emphasis is placed on the 'R' rate, it can hardly be described as reliable or even accurate.

As for a second lockdown, not a chance, we cannot afford it.

If a second lockdown happens, it would destroy the economy and with no economy you have no NHS...
 

duncanp

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The article from the BBC is interesting.

If you look at the quoted text, and see the bit at the end that I have highlighted in red, I think this is what may be happening.

The worst thing we could do now would be to panic, and impose the lockdown again. If we did do that, what would be our exit strategy, as most people agree that you cannot carry on in a strict lockdown forever.

We need to understand why the figures are rising, bearing in mind that the R number is only an estimate, and there is no universally accepted method of calculating it.

Even if the R number is above 1, it doesn't matter if most people who contract it only experience mild symptoms. You also need to pay attention to the number of people in hospital with COVID 19, and the number of people who are seriously ill and require a ventilator.

We also need to get the test, track and trace system up and running properly, so that we can isolate those people who need to be isolated, and stop it from spreading, which will in time reduce the R number.


There have been warnings coronavirus may be starting to spread again in the north-west and the south-west of England.

Some scientists say the R number is creeping up across the country and may have surpassed one - the point at which the epidemic takes off again - in these regions.

Tameside Council has "strongly" advised schools not to reopen on Monday.

The government insists the number is not above one anywhere in the country.

So, what is going on? How worried should we be? And what does it mean for lifting lockdown?

Quickly, what is the R number again?
It is the number of people each infected person, on average, passes the virus onto.

If the R is three, then 10 people would infect 30 others. But if R is 0.5, those 10 people would infect only five.

An R of one is the crucial threshold. Anything lower and an epidemic is in decline, but if it goes higher then cases increase exponentially.

What are the scientists saying?
That R is increasing across England.

One team at Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge says this has been the clear pattern in their data since 11 May, when restrictions in England were eased.

Their findings suggest we're now balanced on the edge of a knife.

"Both the north-west and south-west are just above one, but all regions are straddling one," said Dr Paul Birrell, one of the researchers.

But this is just one mathematical model and there is huge uncertainty in the figures. The PHE data gives a figure between 0.72 and 1.2 for London.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine agrees the south-west may be above one, but paints a more optimistic view of the rest of England and their R number for the north-west is just 0.8.

"Overall, I would say we see R creeping up," Dr Sebastien Funk, from the London School, told the BBC.

They also say the R number is 0.8 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Is this a catastrophe for lifting lockdown?
It would be easy to say yes, but the reality is confusing and it is important to understand what is driving any changes in R.

"It's complicated, the reasons are many and difficult to untangle," Dr Funk told me.

The most straightforward explanation is that the virus is genuinely spreading more. As the PHE report says: "We believe that this is probably due to increasing mobility and mixing between households and in public and workplace settings."

But due to a counter-intuitive quirk of maths, lockdown can be a success, cases fall and R still goes up.

If cases collapse in the community - which appears to be happening - but come down more slowly in care homes and hospitals - which we also think is happening - then these areas will drag the R number back up, even though the situation is improving.

And when you get to low levels of infection, all the estimates become more uncertain and that too can make R appear higher.

"It's a weird thing about R, it tells you the rate of change, and once all the way down, you can't have R at a low level," said Dr Funk.
 

Bantamzen

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I'm not sure why so much emphasis is placed on the 'R' rate, it can hardly be described as reliable or even accurate.

As for a second lockdown, not a chance, we cannot afford it.

If a second lockdown happens, it would destroy the economy and with no economy you have no NHS...
Strange isn't it? For months we have focused on the number of people dying whilst testing positive for the virus. Now that is going down, suddenly the R0 value is the important statistic. However as with the post above from @duncanp, we need to be careful about just taking a single statistic and running with it, because without understanding what that figure is actually telling us we will make he wrong decisions.
 

Bletchleyite

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Let me get this right: the fabled "R" number is the average number of people each infected person transmits the virus to. So, to calculate it you need to know (1) how many people currently have the virus and (2) how many people they've passed it on to. Since neither of these is known with any degree of certainty (and some estimates put the true number of infections as up to ten times the official figure) how can the "R" number be calculated to two decimal places and we're expected to take it seriously?
The problem is people not understanding what has been published and the media not fully publishing it. They have published a number with accuracy bounds, which are very wide indeed and could mean it anything from about 0.8 to about 1.2 in most places (very roughly). The media don't publish those as people don't understand them.
 

Bantamzen

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The problem is people not understanding what has been published and the media not fully publishing it. They have published a number with accuracy bounds, which are very wide indeed and could mean it anything from about 0.8 to about 1.2 in most places (very roughly). The media don't publish those as people don't understand them.
Also, as explained in the article above, a rising R estimate does not necessarily mean a rise in community infections.
 

edwin_m

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The media, including the BBC, loves to report negativity, as evidenced by the above. However the other side of this story is (quoting the BBC) “But the death rate is falling, with the most recent review of death certificates showing the lowest number of coronavirus-related deaths since March.” Unfortunately the latter information won’t be made into a headline or even a prominent story.
The fall in the death rate has wobbled a bit over the last couple of weeks and may be slowing (as you'd expect), although it could be partly a consequence of late reporting over bank holidays.
The problem is the second the lockdown is released... we just get hit by the second wave.
There is no easy way out of this, and a harder lockdown does not actually get us anything unless you can somehow catch every single case - which we can't.
Many countries have their case rate down to a few hundred a day, something that "track and trace" plus strict isolation of care homes etc can probably keep on top of.

Our rate is ten times that and our track and trace isn't properly up and running yet, so I have little confidence that it will catch more than a small proportion. Thus, in the absence of a lockdown, each person could be back to infecting two or three on average and we could be back to April's levels within a few weeks.

Firstly if we'd imposed lockdown a week earlier the figures today would be about a third of what they actually are. Impose it two weeks earlier and we'd be down into the hundreds by now like those other countries.

Having made that mistake the government has compounded it by partial release of lockdown and the likes of Cummings have sent the message that it doesn't really matter any more. During the period of strict lockdown the infection rate was probably halving every couple of weeks, so a few weeks more of it would be needed to bring it back into the hundreds. To those that are concerned about the economy I say that we now face the continuation of social distancing for much longer, which prevents most of the affected businesses being viable, and there is the risk hanging over us of lockdown coming back because it wasn't done properly the first time. Those will cause far more damage than a few weeks more lockdown.
 

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