Covid R rate creeps up but deaths stay low due to milder variant and vaccines

THE COVID R-rate could be as high as 1.4 for the first time since January, new government data suggests.

It’s currently between 1.1 and 1.4 – up from 0.8 – 1.1 last week – although deaths remain on a low and steady trajectory due to the milder Omicron variant and success of the vaccine rollout.

It comes as the over-75s are expected to be invited for their Spring booster jab as early as Monday.

Meanwhile, health secretary Sajid Javid hinted this week that all Brits could be offered their fourth or fifth jab this autumn.

He urged calm amid rising cases, saying the uptick in infections ‘aren’t a cause for concern’.

He told Sky News: “We keep the situation very carefully under review.

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“There’s no other variant of concern out there that is an issue at this point in time.

“We have seen some rises in infections over the last week but given the increase in social mixing this was to be expected.

“And whilst rates have gone up modestly in the last few days, that’s to be expected as we are now open as a country and there’s more social mixing. But there’s nothing in the data at this point in time that gives us any cause for concern.”

Dr Simon Clarke, of Reading University added that the BA2 variant ‘isn’t killing a lot of people’.

He said: “I don’t think we should be panicking because it’s not filling up intensive care wards, which are the NHS’s real bottleneck.

“It’s the sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2, which is causing a lot of the problem but it doesn’t appear to be killing a lot of people.

“Removing restrictions makes it easier for the virus to spread and you could argue the new variant is making it worse but I think it would have happened anyway.

“We shouldn’t ignore the problems this can cause vulnerable people but you can’t expect people to change their lives radically without a real reason.

“People tend to pay most attention when it gets really bad.”

A study this week, published in The Lancet, added to the growing body of research that suggests the Omicron variant is less likely to cause hospitalisation or death, compared to Delta.

Data published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows one in 20 people in England are estimated to have had the bug in the last week.

It comes as the UK surpassed 20 million cases since the start of the pandemic, with a further 89,717 people testing positive for the virus yesterday.

In total, 20,001,627 infections have been recorded – with some expected to be second or third infections.

But with a milder strain to contend with, the UK today took the huge step of ditching time-consuming and costly travel rules.

As of 4am this morning, long-winded passenger locator forms have been scrapped, along with Covid tests for unvaccinated Brits.

Today’s R rate sits somewhere between 1.1 and 1.4 – indicating that for every 10 people infected another 11 to 14 could catch the bug.

It’s the highest it’s been since January, when it was between 1.1 and 1.5.

The highest R rates are seen in London, the East of England and the North West, all between 1.1-1.4.

They are followed by the South East and the South West which are both sat between 1-1.4.

In the week ending March 12, 2.7 million people in England had the bug, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.

The Omicron BA.2 variant is now dominant across the UK and experts today said that infections are increasing in every area and across every age group.

Prof James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and Professor of Structural Biology, University of Oxford said: “Without vaccines, this would be bleak for the this country.  Countries with poor vaccination rates face a very challenging future.

“At this level of prevalence and the decision not to halt the spread, the most likely outcome is that almost everyone who is susceptible is going to be infected.

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“For the UK, my main concern is for the vulnerable for whom this disease is serious and for those whose lives will be blighted by long covid19.

“Every effort must be made to triple vaccinate as many people as possible, quadruple vaccinate the most vulnerable and make available antivirals.”

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