By Michael Baxter, Fresh Business Thinking

The UK government has announced a three-week extension of the UK lockdown, has outlined the five criteria that must be met to relax the social distancing measures, but has also revealed that the infection rate has fallen below one.

The infection rate of a virus, known as R, or R zero, is a key measure. Various papers had suggested that the usual R value of Covid-19 was around 5.7. That meant that for person who got infected, a further 5.7 people caught the virus. That was a frightening statistic. It meant those 5.7 people would collectively pass the virus on to 32 people, they would pass it on to 185 people, they would pass it on to 1,055 people.

Today, Dominic Raab, First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, revealed that SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) believes that the R value is now less than one. He was unable to say how much less than one, but that is a very significant improvement. It means one person who catches the virus would pass it on to less than one person, who would in turn pass it on to less than one person, etcetera. In other words, the number of infections after four degrees of separation from the first person in a series who has the virus would be 1,000 times less when R is one than when it is 5.7.

It is a very encouraging development.

The fear is that once social distancing measures are relaxed, the infection rate will increase.

That is why today, Mr Raab announced that the lockdown will be extended for at least another three weeks.

He also outlined five criteria for relaxing social distancing criteria:

  • Firstly, to protect the NHS’s ability to cope and provide critical care and specialist equipment.
  • Secondly, when there is a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate of Coronavirus.
  • Thirdly, when data from Sage suggests that that the number of infections has fallen to manageable levels across the board.
  • Fourthly, when operational changes including testing and PPE equipment are in hand and supply can meet future demand.
  • Fifthly, when the government is confident that a relaxation in social distancing measures won’t create a second peak in the virus. He said that if that happened it would be “bad for economy and bad for public health.”
Mr Raab also said that so far, 327,608 people have been tested for the virus, 103,093 have tested positive and 13,729 have sadly died.

Over the last 24 hours, 861 deaths from Covid-19 in hospitals have been confirmed