The crucial R rate for the coronavirus could now be at 1 across England, government scientists have said.
The R number, or reproduction number, represents the average number of people infected by each person with Covid-19. Any number above one means the epidemic of the virus is growing rather than shrinking.
According to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the R value for England is between 0.8 and 1, a rise from a range of 0.7 to 0.9 last week.
This is the second successive week in which the R rate has increased.
An R number between 0.8 and 1 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between eight and 10 other people.
Sage did not agree on a UK-wide R rate this week as each nation within the UK lifted restrictions at different rates, making R a less meaningful measure, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The latest R calculations are based on data up to 29 March, and suggest that the growth rate for the virus was between minus 4 per cent and zero. This means the number of new infections could either be stable or falling by 4 per cent every day.
The DHSC said: “The upper bound of the estimated range for R values is at 1 for all seven NHS regions of England, reflecting a flattening in transmission across the country. There remains significant variation in transmission locally within regions, with indications of potential levelling-off or growth in some areas and communities.”
It added: “The overall data for England shows that cases and transmission are levelling off. The government expects cases will begin to increase as we move through the roadmap, but as we continue with our remarkable vaccination programme we are going to protect the most vulnerable and prevent people from contracting serious illness, while reducing pressure on the NHS.
“As R is a measure that lags by two to three weeks, the latest figures cannot account for the most recent policy changes, and do not yet reflect the full impact of the reopening of schools in England.”
The latest data on the R rate came as the government banned more foreign travel between some countries, with the Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya and Bangladesh added to England's "red list" as of next Friday.
It means passengers arriving from, or who have transited through, these countries will be banned from entering unless they are a British or Irish national or are a resident in the UK.
Those returning home to England will be required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, and must take a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight of their self-isolation.
Travel bans have been introduced to protect against new variants of Covid-19.
The majority of cases of the South African variant detected in England so far were linked to international travel.
Elsewhere, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reported earlier that it had, so far, recorded 30 cases of rare blood clot events associated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – but stressed that the benefits of the jab “significantly outweigh risks across all adult groups”.
Some 18 million first doses of the vaccine have been given, making the clotting events extremely rare. Covid-19, which the jab protects against, has also been linked to risks of blood clotting.
The Netherlands has suspended its use of the vaccine for people under 60, following reports by national news agency ANP that a Dutch woman died after receiving one.
As of Friday, a further 52 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK, bringing the nation’s total to almost 127,000. There have also now been more than 4.3 million confirmed cases in Britain.
Boris Johnson issued a warning ahead of the long Easter weekend to remind people they should only see friends and family outdoors, even if vaccinated, as the government’s roadmap out of lockdown states.
“Let’s keep each other safe as we continue with the vaccination rollout,” he said as part of a statement on Twitter.
The next stage of restrictions being eased is expected on 12 April, when pubs, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen for outdoor and takeaway service only. However, the hospitality industry has taken aim at ministers over plans for domestic vaccine passports.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told BBC Breakfast that the documents would be unfair to customers yet to receive the jab – and a difficult system for venue owners to implement.
The idea of using them to allow people access to events and pubs sits alongside separate proposals for regulating international travel.
A cross-party group of over 70 MPs have launched a campaign against the “divisive and discriminatory” plan, with politicians including the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, and the Tory 1922 committee chair, Graham Brady, saying the certificates should not be used to “deny individuals access to general services”.
Initial findings from a review into the passports, being led by Michael Gove, are to be announced by the prime minister on Monday.
Mr Johnson will also share details of a new “traffic light” system, which will see foreign getaway destinations graded either green, amber or red, according to how far along countries are in their vaccination programmes, according to reports in The Times.
It is thought that British tourists could be allowed to visit places such as the US and Israel, where vaccination rates are high, as soon as the summer.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies