UK coronavirus R-rate drops below 1 for first time in three months

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The crucial R-rate, which measures how fast coronavirus is spreading in the UK, has fallen below 1.

Government scientists have said the number across the UK is now between to 0.9 and 1.0.

That means that currently every 10 people with Covid-19 pass the virus to one other person on average.

Last week the R-rate was between 1.0 and 1.1.

Because the figures come with a time lag of up to three weeks, R-rate may already be below 0.9 in England but it hasn't yet shown up on the official figure.

The UK's lockdown ends next week
(Image: PA)

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The figures released today shows that the North West has a R-rate of 0.7 to 0.9 making it the lowest in England.

With a R-rate of 1.0 to 1.2 the South East has the highest in the country.

London's R-rate stands at 1.0 to 1.1 while the East of England, Midlands and the South West share the same 0.9 to 1.1 figure.

The R-rate for the North East and Yorkshire is 0.80 to 1.0.

A breakdown of the R-rate numbers in England

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The news comes as the UK's coronavirus death toll increased by 498 on Thursday but the number of fresh infections has continued a downward trend.

There were 17,555 new cases of Covid-19 bringing the total to 1,574,562.

England comes out of its national lockdown next week and the government confirmed on Thursday which areas would be placed into either Tier 1, 2 or 3.

The government has confirmed 99% of people will be in either Tier 2 or Tier 3 – where all indoor social gatherings are banned.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the tiers will be reviewed in a fortnight and kept “regularly under review after that”.

He told the Commons: “The majority of England will be in Tier 2 but a significant number of areas, I’m afraid, need to be in Tier 3 to bring case rates done.

“Now I know how tough this is both for areas that have been in restrictions for a long time like Leicester and Greater Manchester and also for areas where cases have risen sharply recently like Bristol, the West Midlands and Kent.

“I understand the impact that these measures will have but they are necessary given the scale of the threat that we face.

A map showing Tier 1, 2 and 3 areas across England from December 2

“We’ll review the measures in a fortnight and keep them regularly under review after that.”

Places that find themselves in the toughest tier, level 3, face a ban on households mixing, except in limited circumstances such as parks.

Bars and restaurants would be limited to takeaway or delivery services and people would be advised to avoid travelling outside their area.

Very few areas will end up in the the lowest tier – 1.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock
(Image: PA)

In Tier 1 areas people must obey the rule of six indoors and outdoors. These limits exclude families that are larger than six people, or support bubble.

Pubs can also sell alcohol without food as long as they operate by table service only.

Those areas that find themselves in tier 2 still face tough restrictions.

Hospitality venues can serve alcohol alongside a substantial meal.

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Tier 2 also bans mixing indoors, including in public spaces such as pubs and restaurants. But people can meet up to six people outdoors, which includes pub gardens.

A coronavirus vaccine is a step closer after the UK's medicines regulator was formally asked by the Government to assess the Oxford University and AstraZeneca jab – giving hope to millions.

The move "marks a significant first step in getting the vaccine approved for deployment" if it meets the necessary safety, efficacy and quality standards, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

But it comes after scientists have defended Oxford University and AstraZeneca after questions were raised about the results of their vaccine trial.

The Government said four million doses will be ready for the UK by the end of the year, with 40 million by the end of March 2021, out of a total order of 100 million.

Last week the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was formally asked by the Government to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

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