UK R-number rises to above 1, but is the disease still as severe?

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UK R-number rises to above 1
These words invaded our vocabulary lately Photo credit: Dreamstime

UK R-number rises to above 1 with Scotland’s hitting somewhere between 1.1 & 1.5.

The reproduction number which is also known as the R-rate, R-value or the R-number has now officially averaged over the 1 mark in the UK, however it is important to note that this varies according to region.

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The R-number is the method by which a virus’s ability to spread across the population is estimated. It identifies how many other individuals one person is likely to infect. Some of the most severe epidemics in history have had exceptionally high R-numbers.

For example, an outbreak of measles has the potential to see an astounding R-value of 15 in populations that have no immunity to the disease. This means that one individual carrying the measles contagion can infect 15 other people.

When no action is taken, COVID-19 is said to have a potential R-number of three, if no action is taken to curb the spread.


An infection with an R-number of one or higher means that the virus or contagion can spread exponentially with potentially catastrophic results. However, the R-number is not able to be identified at the start of pandemic and rather scientist must work backwards, using the available data, to understand both a contagion and its R-number. This process means that as a society we are always on the back foot when a new virus enters the population.

As such, governments and health official desperately work to keep a new contagions R-number below one. The idea being that if the R-number is below one then the virus or contagion will eventually fade out of the population.


Further problems arise when trying to calculate the R-number for an entire country. As the R-number is not fixed and changes, dependent on the habits of the population, it can increase from below one to above rather rapidly. Furthermore, calculating an R-number for an entire country means that you cannot take into account the differences between town, regions and areas.

Therefore, governments will use tactics such as lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, increased sanitisation, etc, in an attempt to ensure that the R-number stays below that figure of one.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic the R-number in the UK was well above one meaning that the spread happened swiftly and with little determent however as government policy was instigated, the number dropped dramatically. Now, however, the number is on the rise again as more and more of the population returns to some level of normality which is seeing them interact much more often and in much closer confines.

At the present time the UK government estimates that the R-number is sitting between 1 and 1.2 with Scotland sitting between 1.1 and 1.5. However in Wales, the R-number is thought to be between 0.5 and 1, and in Northern Ireland it is estimated to be as low as 0.3 in some places but as high as 1.4 in others.

In England, the R-number was initially the driving factor for the UK government in the decisions that they have taken to increase or reduce public confinement and the restriction of public freedoms.

The political decisions however then moved away from the R-number as the government stated it was a less reliable method of estimating the scale of the contagion. However, with cases steeply on the rise again, this may be something that will be renewed swiftly.

Ultimately, there are three ways in which the rigorousness of a virus can be measured; the R-number, severity, and number of cases.

However, there is a growing consensus amount the general public that governments from across the planet should also be looking at the ratio of cases to the number of deaths and hospitalisations to examine how severe and damaging the coronavirus currently is. With cases ever on the increase but Intensive Care admissions and Deaths both down, relatively, the restriction on public freedoms is becoming a bone of contention for the general public.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, but primarily in the younger generations, there are more questions being asked as to the necessity of harsh restrictions.

Thank you for reading this article “UK R-number rises to above 1, but is the disease still as severe?”. For more up-to-date coronavirus news, visit the Euro Weekly News website.




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