The R Rate Explained

When it comes to protecting the country, we often use a traffic light system to symbolise the level of threat that we could be under from all sorts of things such as the weather or even terrorist attacks. With COVID-19, the term “R rate” has been used instead, and this reflects the rate that a disease spreads across the nation.

But what is R?

R simply reflects the infection rate of COVID-19. It’s a calculation of how many people one person will transmit the virus to.

If this is above one, then the virus will begin to infect more and more people and can very quickly get out of control. If it is equal to one then the level of infections will stay the same, and when it falls below one, COVID-19 should be on its way out.

The problem with COVID-19 is that it is highly contagious, without intervention the rate of infection would be much higher. To put this into perspective, even if the infection rate is 1.1, many countries are simply not adequately equipped to deal with the amount of cases and the health systems will begin to buckle.

The common cold’s rate of infection is said to be 1.3 and although this is a higher number than one, the symptoms are not severe. Many people catch a cold and can easily get on with day-to-day activities with only minor disruptions.

Sars, another respiratory disease, is said to be 2-4 (meaning for every one person that is infected, they are likely to pass it on to another two to four people) and measles is between 12-18, making both these outbreaks a very high risk to the general population compared to the common cold, especially as the symptoms are much more severe.

For more information about the current infection rates of COVID-19, see here.

What is the R rate for COVID-19?

With COVID-19, the R rate is different depending on what country you are in. When the outbreak first arose in the UK, the R rate was close to four, meaning that hospitals quickly became full and every 10 people that were infected would pass it on to another 40. After social distancing measures were put in place, this number began to fall, but we are only just wavering below one after almost eight weeks in lockdown.

For more information on the government restrictions and what that looks like for the UK, see here.

What does the R rate have to be before we ease lockdown properly?

The government is keeping close eyes on the R rate and is constantly reviewing new data to get accurate results. Dominic Raab said on the 7th May that the R rate seems to be between 0.5-0.9. Although we seem to be on our way out of the danger zone, with some businesses being back at work, lockdown could be very quickly reinforced if the R rate goes above one again. With each step that the government introduces to ease lockdown, they will need to wait two to three weeks to assess new cases before making any more decisions.

How can I help to reduce the R rate?

The government still advises that we avoid unnecessary travel and stay at home where possible. When we do go out, it has been suggested that a face covering is used to help control the spread of the virus. Wearing a Virustatic Shield is a great way of staying protected when you do need to go out to public spaces. It is still however advised that you wash your hands thoroughly and often, and do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean. You should still practise social distancing while wearing these masks, and they do not exclude you from the government rules that are in place.

For more government advice, see here.