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Coronavirus R number fell below one before lockdown, study claims

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The R number in England may have fallen below one before lockdown, according to a study that analysed thousands of coronavirus tests.

Imperial College London’s React study, which draws on infection data between October 26 and November 2, suggests it stood at 0.85 before coronavirus restrictions were re-introduced on November 5.

Based on 74,000 random swab test, the fall in infections came before half term and reached a low point on October 30, according to the study.

It then increased a little in the final few days of the study up to November 2.

Author Prof Steven Riley told the Daily Mirror : “There was a lot happening in that week.

“There was half term in many areas. October was a wet month and there was a lot of talk about lockdown.”

Asked whether the uptick could be due to people paying one last visit to the pub, Prof Riley replied: “It could be.”

The team believe the decrease may have occurred during rainy weather, with Brits socialising less.

Scientists warned the total number of people infected is still very high and said national lockdown was necessary to prevent rising deaths.

In the week up to November 2, the R number was said to be 0.77 in London, 0.83 in the North West and 0.88 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

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It was only above 1 in the North East (1.15) and East of England (1.12).

In the most recent survey period, they estimated 1.3% of the entire population of England – around 1 million people – had the virus at any one time.

However, the REACT study’s estimate is not the official R number.

That data is provided by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The REACT study has seen 930,000 people take part by completing home swab testing kits and gives a picture of infection levels just before lockdown.

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Any drop in the national outbreak appears to be driven by falling infections in primary school age children and 19 to 24 year olds.

REACT study director Prof Paul Elliott believes the data may suggest a “plateauing” of infections nationally.

He said: “Because of the shape of that very late data going down and then up, it’s very difficult to summarise that.

“Overall though the [infections] data shows it has slowed since the rapid rise in the previous round.

"Our latest round offers robust data on England’s coronavirus situation up until just three days before the country entered its second nation-wide lockdown.”

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