London could be on the verge of being placed under the harshest coronavirus lockdown restrictions after the R rate skyrocketed to as high as 2.9.
The rate of infection in the capital, thought to be the highest in the country, is believed to be doubling every three days.
Researchers at Imperial College London estimate R is above 2.0 in London, the South East, East of England and South West – although there is some uncertainty in these figures.
London’s is thought to be 2.86, meaning each infected person passes the virus on to almost three others. The city was moved into the tier two ‘high’ coronavirus alert level earlier this month.
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In England as a whole, they found infections are doubling every nine days with the national R rate estimated at 1.56.
The interim data from round six of the React study uses data and swab results from 86,000 people between October 16 and 25, and estimates there are around 96,000 new infections per day.
Researchers say they are detecting early signs areas that previously had low rates of infection are following trends observed in the country’s worst-affected regions.
They say the second wave of coronavirus in England has reached a ‘critical stage’ as the current measures are ‘not sufficient’.
The authors warn: ‘The co-occurrence of high prevalence and rapid growth means that the second wave of the epidemic in England has now reached a critical stage.
‘Whether via regional or national measures, it is now time-critical to control the virus and turn R below one if further hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 are to be avoided.’
They add that the pandemic is growing exponentially, but say the effect of some of the most recent measures may not have filtered through to the numbers.
The data suggests the clustering of Covid-19 cases was more prevalent in Lancashire, Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire, West Midlands and East Midlands.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today said coronavirus rates are in a ‘bad place’ all over the country but added the Government is resisting another national lockdown.
He told Sky News: ‘We will continue with our localised but proportionate approach on taking action where the virus is strongest, but you can see from those figures that the virus is in a bad place in all parts of the country.
‘The approach of trying to bear down on it where it is most concentrated, I think, continues to be the best way forward because despite the fact the virus is rising across the country it is very concentrated in some places nonetheless.’
But Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said the data from the React study suggests ‘we need to think about changing the approach’.
Asked if this meant tightening local lockdowns or national restrictions, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think what our study shows is there would be genuine benefits to some kind of national policy.
‘In that we could prevent the pattern in the South turning into the current pattern in the North and bring about a reversal in the North as quickly as possible.
‘There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing in these data is really quite rapid, so one way or another there has to be a change before Christmas.’
The React study which was commissioned by DHSC and carried out by a world-class team of scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos Mori.
The data is released as a pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed.
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