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UK COVID-19 R rate rises to 0.9-1.1, epidemic could be growing

LONDON, Aug 21 (Reuters) - The reproduction “R” number of COVID-19 infections in the United Kingdom has risen and may now be above 1, the Government Office for Science said on Friday, indicating a risk that the overall epidemic is growing.

The UK R number is between 0.9 and 1.1, the government said, up from 0.8-1.0 last week. The daily growth rate for the UK as a whole is between -3% and 1%, up from -4% to -1%.

The R number represents the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

An R number above 1 can lead very rapidly to exponential growth, although the figures are driven by local outbreaks, and scientists have said that the estimates are less reliable when overall incidence of the virus is low.

“We have been seeing indications that these values may be increasing, with estimated ranges increasing slightly from previous publications,” the Government Office for Science said in a statement, reiterating that scientific advisers did not have confidence that the R number was below 1 in England.

At the end of July, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that the government was reaching the limits of the re-opening of the economy.

But while a rise of COVID-19 infections in July led to a postponement of the latest stage of the relaxation of restrictions, that further easing of lockdown resumed a week ago. (Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)

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