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The Changing Landscape of Coronavirus in the UK

How is current data differing across the UK?

The R-Rate is a barometer everyone seems to have their eye on these days.

With regular updates on a triweekly basis, the nation waits for the news and speculates what changes will be made.

Within a short space of time, people have become public health experts.

Releasing school children back outside and into classrooms almost makes a person fear for the worst, and wait for impending doom.

When the government makes sudden U-turns, it does not help to dispel fears when questioning how long this virus will keep us apart.

Best Laid Plans

England had planned to ensure the return of all primary-aged pupils before the summer break. On the 1st of June, reception (primary 1), year 2 (primary 2), and year 6 (primary 7) pupils returned to school.

Clearly there was trepidation within all sections of the community as to how this might pan out. The logistics alone, but more significantly, if it would work?

The editor of net mums, Anne-Marie O’Leary spoke about her concerns about ITV’s ‘This Morning’. She had chosen to keep her daughter at home, instead of sending her to school.

The fears are real. With such early days, England only having just entered into phase 2 at the start of June, it seemed a little hasty to permit what is a gathering inside.

Nonetheless, this is what happened. What does the data suggest? As it is, the data currently available is not reflective of the new variables being introduced. Nicola Sturgeon commented on the recent decrease in R-rate within Scotland, as non-illustrative regarding the new relaxed measures.

The first minister commented that since the relaxing of lockdown measures on May 28th, the data being received now is reflective of the outcome before May 28th.

It is unsure when data will become available for this current period.

England however, must have received data to have encouraged the canceling of ‘all pupils returning’. Boris Johnson had promised all primary-aged pupils to return to school before the end of term. This meant all pupils to be back by July 1st, with a month of schooling left before summer.

However, the government announced a sudden U-turn and stated this was no longer to be the case.

Perhaps it was the more immediate data, public opinion, which swayed the government decision. Only 1 in 4 pupils of those eligible returned to school on the 1st of June.

What is Public Opinion?

Clearly, the public is fearful. When Denmark returned to school, this being a country having seen far fewer deaths than the comparative Scottish population: the R-rate rose to 0.9. Dangerously close to 1.

If the R-rate is to rise above 1, it means the transmission of the virus to 1 other person, which means-a new outbreak. This is why it is important to keep the R below 1.

‘Only 52% of primary schools felt safe enough to open to more pupils.’

The Guardian 

It is understandable that public opinion is such. With a lack of infrastructure to welcome the changes needed, it would be unwise to move too fast.

It is becoming increasingly more obvious that the virus needs to be controlled regionally, rather than nationally.

At one time, it was believed Scotland’s timeline of the virus, fell behind other parts of the UK. This is still perhaps the case, although Scotland has recorded the lowest R-rate ever, between 0.6 and 0.8. Again, the infection rate since the eased restrictions remains to be seen.

Whilst the infection rate seems to be going down in Scotland, it is going up in some parts of England.

England has seen alarming numbers in both the South West and the North West. 

The North West of England is as such, calling for powers to take regional action without Westminster. This would allow them similar powers to Scotland, which it is felt lies parallel, regarding similar populations. There are around five million people in the North West of England, and Scotland has around 5.8 million.

Both these regional areas have seen the infection rate climb beyond one recent, with the South West having recorded an R-rate of between 0.8-1.1. There have therefore been calls to enforce lockdown and relax it, regionally.

This undoubtedly makes sense. Some regions were behind London and Birmingham, which recorded the highest infection rates in the beginning. However, London now maintains 0.7-0.9 and the South West is seeing highs of 1.1. These parameters are not the same. Regional action needs to be taken, irrespective of the rest of the country. 

The North West of England now has more cases of Coronavirus in hospital than any other region in the UK.

Why is Scotland seeing a reduced infection rate and the likes of the South West seeing an increased infection rate?

Perhaps Scotland benefits from a far less dense population, compared to Manchester and Liverpool in the North West of England. Scotland is also fortunate to have powers to allow local diversity and to have had the option of taking a different strategy from England.

This has gone in Scotland’s favor so far, hopefully, the same powers will be relinquished to regional England.

Such a decision could harness a changing tide within politics.