Greg Clark MP, the chairman of the science and technology select committee, urged ministers not to rely too heavily on the “irrelevant” figure while deciding whether people outside care homes could go back to work and see friends and family.
“There’s a concern that measures that could safely release people back into the community are not being taken because of an irrelevant ‘R’ number determined by cases in care homes and hospitals,” he told The Telegraph.
“It’s not clear how the ‘R rate in care homes is relevant to the ‘R’ rates of people going about their daily business. If people are in a care home, by definition they are not going out into the community and infecting other people.
“But the single ‘R’ number given out by the Government has been skewed. It cannot reflect the reality outside, and we need to know whether crucial public policy decisions are being based on this number.”
Mr Clark urged the Government to release data showing the true rate of transmission in different parts of the UK so the regional risks, as well as the spread of disease in the community, can be fully understood.
“The Government should not be saying it is following the science without being totally transparent,” he said.
The R0 number, or reproductive value, describes the average number of people an infected individual can expect to pass the coronavirus on to. If the figure is above one, that means the virus is continuing to spread rather than gradually dying away.
A lack of mass testing has hampered the ability of scientists to assess the true spread of the virus in the UK.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, has said UK scientists calculating the ‘R’ rate are relying instead on “all sorts of things including contacts, looking at genomics, looking at data from ambulances, hospital admissions, and so on”.
Five different modelling groups then fit mathematical models to the data before calculating the national ‘R’ rate. The groups, known as SPI-M, met last weekend and agreed on a “consensus” between their methods to come up with one single number.
The figure was then presented to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) committee, which advises the Government.