‘R’ We Going In The Right Direction?

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak we’ve heard a lot being said about the ‘R number’. At the daily news briefings minister after minister, adviser after adviser has stressed the importance of keeping the R number below 1. If it’s above 1 it means cases will increase exponentially so keeping it at ‘manageable levels’ has become 1 of the 5 Government tests that has to be met before lockdown can be eased.

I’m still not entirely sure what this rather obscure number is comprised of, but it is a key measure of how rapidly the virus is spreading. If it remains too high we risk having further outbreaks and a longer lockdown.

Inevitably, the R number will vary from region to region and will depend on a multitude of factors. For example, here in Wales it is still at 0.9 and this is reflected in Mark Drakeford’s decision to delay the easing of lockdown. Over in England the figure had sat at 0.5-0.9, but with increased mobility and mixing between household since their easing of the lockdown restrictions it is now said to be between 0.7-1. Worryingly, Matt Hancock confirmed yesterday that the R value is estimated to be above 1 in the North West with the South West following closely behind.

With beaches and beauty spots across England seeing swarms of people due to the good weather it comes as no surprise to see the R value increasing – with lockdown effectively done and dusted it seems the figure will keep rising.

People have clearly reached lockdown fatigue and returning to any form of meaningful lockdown in England would go down like a lead balloon, not least because of the Cummings fiasco.

Instead Matt Hancock appears to be in favour of various local lockdowns whereby individual regions and councils could implement their own restrictions based on their individual R value. To me this seems like an easy way for the Government to simply pass the buck onto smaller councils who likely lack the resources or the proper funding to enforce any meaningful form of lockdown.

When all this is over a lot of people will have a lot to say about what the Government could have done differently, but surely its failure to maintain a low R value, despite emphasising the importance of keeping it at ‘manageable levels’, is surely a damning indictment of how poorly they have handled the pandemic.

We are, clearly, heading in the wrong direction, but how we rectify this trajectory is uncertain. Given the Government’s awful lockdown strategy and poor messaging I would think the damage is irreparable.

For all their preaching about “following the science”, the continued easing of lockdown despite the increasing R value suggests that the Government is, in fact, much more interested in following the politics.

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