COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom
|COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom|
|First outbreak||Wuhan, China|
|Index case||York, North Yorkshire|
|Arrival date||31 January 2020|
(1 year, 8 months, 2 weeks and 6 days ago)
|Date||As of 30 September 2021[update]|
|Suspected cases‡||726,895 (+60,796) [nb 3]|
|Ventilator cases||813 (active)|
|Fatality rate||2.88% |
|UK Government[nb 6]|
Northern Ireland Department of Health
|‡Suspected cases have not been confirmed by laboratory tests as being due to this strain, although some other strains may have been ruled out.|
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The virus reached the UK in late January 2020. As of 13 October 2021[update], there have been 8,537,650 confirmed cases and 139,042 deaths among people who had recently tested positive – the world's 22nd highest death rate by population, and with the most overall cases and second-highest death toll in Europe after Russia. There has been some disparity between the outbreak's severity in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – health-care in the UK is a devolved matter. Each constituent country has its own publicly-funded healthcare system operated by devolved governments.
The virus was known to have spread to the UK by early 2020. The country's response included a public information campaign and certain expansions to government powers, but was otherwise slow to introduce preventative measures, increase testing or prepare for an outbreak. From March 2020 onwards, the government introduced restrictions across the UK on aspects of life such as people's freedom of movement, education, and leisure activities. Police were empowered to enforce the measures, and the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave all four governments emergency powers not used since the Second World War. These restrictions were eased and tightened periodically, and there was some variance in restrictions between the four countries of the UK and more localised rules were also introduced. In the early days of the pandemic, the health services worked to raise hospital capacity and set up temporary critical care hospitals, but faced shortages of personal protective equipment. In late 2020, a new more infectious variant of the virus emerged in the UK, causing another wave in infections over the winter that was deadlier than the first. The country's vaccination programme was the first to start in December 2020 and was one of the fastest in the world. The highly transmissible Delta variant arrived in the UK and drove a third wave of infections in mid-2021 that increased into the autumn, although high vaccination rates led to a substantially lower mortality rate than previous waves.
In addition to the major strain on the UK's healthcare service, the pandemic has had a severe impact on the UK's economy, caused major disruptions to education and had far-reaching impacts on society.
On 12 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel coronavirus was the cause of a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan City, Hubei, China, which was reported to the WHO on 31 December 2019. The case fatality ratio for COVID-19 has been much lower than SARS of 2003, but the transmission has been significantly greater, with a significant total death toll.
Genetic sequencing has traced most COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom to imported cases from Italy, France, and Spain, rather than directly from China.
Though later reporting indicated that there may have been some cases dating from late 2019, COVID-19 was confirmed to be spreading in the UK by the end of January 2020 with the first confirmed deaths in March. The country was initially relatively slow in implementing restrictions. Subsequent epidemiological analysis showed that over 1000 lineages of SARS-CoV-2 entered the UK in early 2020 from international travellers, mostly from outbreaks elsewhere in Europe, leading to numerous clusters that overwhelmed contact tracing efforts. A legally enforced Stay at Home Order, or lockdown, was introduced on 23 March. Restrictions were steadily eased across the UK in late spring and early summer that year. The UK's epidemic in early 2020 was at the time one of the largest and deadliest worldwide.
By the Autumn, COVID-19 cases were again rising. This lead to the creation of new regulations along with the introduction of the concept of a local lockdown, a variance in restrictions in a more specific geographic location than the four nations of the UK. Lockdowns took place in Wales, England and Northern Ireland later that season. A new variant of the virus is thought to have originated in Kent around September 2020. Once restrictions were lifted, the novel variant rapidly spread across the UK. Its increased transmissibility contributed to a continued increase in daily infections. The NHS had come under severe strain by late December. This lead to a tightening of restrictions across the UK.
The first COVID-19 vaccine was approved and began it's rollout in the UK in early December, 15 million vaccine doses had been given to predominantly those most vulnerable to the virus by mid-February. 6 months later more than 75% of adults in the UK were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Quarantine rules for incoming travellers were introduced in late January. Restrictions began to ease from late February onwards and almost all had ended in Great Britain by August. A third wave of daily infections began in July 2021 due to the arrival and rapid spread of the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. However, mass vaccination continued to keep deaths and hospitalisations at much lower levels than in previous waves. Infection rates remained high and hospitalisations and deaths rose into the autumn.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Government have introduced various public health and economic measures to mitigate its impact. Devolution has meant that the four nations' administrative responses to the pandemic have differed; the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive have produced different policies to those that apply in England. Numerous laws have been introduced throughout the crisis.
The British government had developed a pandemic response plan in previous years. The first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the UK in January 2020; in response, the UK introduced advice for travellers coming from affected countries in late January and February 2020, and began contact tracing, although this was later abandoned. The government incrementally introduced further societal restrictions on the public as the virus spread across the country in the following weeks, initially resisting more stringent measures introduced elsewhere in Europe and Asia. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown on 23 March 2020 and Parliament introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020, which granted the devolved governments emergency powers and empowered the police to enforce public health measures. Once the nationwide stay-at-home order was lifted in May 2020, it was replaced by regional restrictions, social distancing measures, self-isolation laws for those exposed to the virus and rules on face masks. In autumn and winter 2020, further nationwide lockdowns were introduced in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases. A COVID-19 vaccination programme began in December 2020.
Economic support has been provided to struggling businesses and to furlough employees to mitigate the severe economic impact. It also streamlined the procurement process in contracts in response to shortages of medical equipment and for developing a contact tracing app.The British government has faced criticism for its slow response to and poor preparation for the pandemic, which analysts and critics have blamed for the country's high death toll. A 2021 government report Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date described the decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic, and the advice that led to them, as "one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced", and the vaccination approch, including its research, development, and rollout as "one of the most effective initiatives in UK history". A public inquiry will take place in 2022.
In August 2021, a report from Age UK found that 27% of people over 60 could not walk as far and 25% were living in more physical pain earlier this year compared to the start of the pandemic. 54% of older people felt less confident attending a hospital appointment, and 37% of older people felt less confident going to a GP surgery.
The pandemic was widely disruptive to the economy of the United Kingdom, with most sectors and workforces adversely affected. Some temporary shutdowns became permanent; some people who were furloughed were later made redundant. The economic disruption has had a significant impact on people's mental health—with particular damage to the mental health of foreign-born men whose work hours have been reduced/eliminated.
The pandemic has had far-reaching consequences in the country that go beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to quarantine it, including political, cultural, and social implications.
Spread to other countries and territories
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 upon her return from WE Day events in the UK; on 12 March 2020 the Trudeau family entered two weeks of self-isolation. The first patient in Mauritius was a 59-year-old man who returned from the United Kingdom on 7 March 2020. When he arrived in Mauritius, the Mauritian had no symptoms. Other cases of the novel coronavirus resulting from travel to the UK were subsequently reported in India and Nigeria.
On 16 June 2020, it was widely reported in British media that New Zealand's first COVID-19 cases in 24 days were diagnosed in two British women, both of whom had travelled from the UK and were given special permission to visit a dying parent. The women had entered the country on 7 June, after first flying into Doha and Brisbane.
A 2021 study suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant which was first detected in Kent is thought to have began its spread to many countries internationally from flights originating in London in late 2020.
This article presents official statistics gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.
The official daily report from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) counts those who died after testing positive for coronavirus. It "could be the major cause, a contributory factor or simply present when they are dying of something else". From 29 April 2020, the official figures include all coronavirus-positive deaths in the UK, wherever they happened. Before then, the official daily toll included only hospital deaths in England, but included all coronavirus-positive deaths in the rest of the UK wherever they happened, if known to public health agencies. There may be a delay between a death and it entering official statistics so families can be informed; this delay is usually a few days, but can be longer.The Office for National Statistics (ONS) issues a weekly report covering the four countries, which counts all deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate; not necessarily as the main cause of death. As of 21 September 2021[update], the total of registered deaths mentioning COVID-19 up till 10 September was 160,374, comprising 146,380 deaths for England, 8,129 for Wales, 10,688 for Scotland and 3,306 for Northern Ireland. In addition 184 non-UK residents died in England and Wales. This incorporates data from the National Records of Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. This figure is higher because it also counts deaths where no test was done. The ONS has analysed death certificates for England and Wales to the end of 2020 and shown that 91% of deaths which mention COVID-19 state this as the main cause of death (compared with 18% for flu and pneumonia).
Mathematical modelling and government response
Reports from the Medical Research Council's Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London have been providing mathematically calculated estimates of cases and case fatality rates. In February 2020, the team at Imperial College, led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, estimated about two-thirds of cases in travellers from China were not detected and that some of these may have begun "chains of transmission within the countries they entered". They forecast that the new type of coronavirus could infect up to 60% of the UK's population, in the worst-case scenario.
In a paper on 16 March, the Imperial College team provided detailed forecasts of the potential impacts of the epidemic in the UK and US. It detailed the potential outcomes of an array of 'non-pharmaceutical interventions'. Two potential overall strategies outlined were: mitigation, in which the aim is to reduce the health impact of the epidemic but not to stop transmission completely; and suppression, where the aim is to reduce transmission rates to a point where case numbers fall. Until this point, government actions had been based on a strategy of mitigation, but the modelling predicted that while this would reduce deaths by approximately 2/3, it would still lead to approximately 250,000 deaths from the disease and the health systems becoming overwhelmed. On 16 March, the Prime Minister announced changes to government advice, extending self-isolation to whole households, advising social distancing particularly for vulnerable groups, and indicating that further measures were likely to be required in the future. A paper on 30 March by the Imperial College group estimated that the lockdown would reduce the number of dead from 510,000 to less than 20,000. This paper and others relied on data from European countries including the UK to estimate that the combined non-pharmaceutical interventions reduced the reproduction number of the virus by 67-87%, enough to stop infections from growing.
- COVID-19 pandemic in England
- COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland
- COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland
- COVID-19 pandemic in Wales
- COVID-19 pandemic in the British Overseas Territories
- COVID-19 pandemic in Guernsey
- COVID-19 pandemic in Jersey
- COVID-19 pandemic in the Isle of Man
- COVID-19 pandemic impact on retail (United Kingdom)
- Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in the United Kingdom
- COVID-19 vaccination programme in the United Kingdom
- British government response to the COVID-19 pandemic
- ONS Infection Survey estimate.
- ONS estimate of prevalence of ongoing symptoms or "Long COVID".
- Current symptomatic cases. (COVID Symptom Study).
- Deaths within 28 days of a positive test by date reported.
Does not include the death of one British citizen on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship (see COVID-19 pandemic on cruise ships), or the 84 recorded deaths in the British Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies.
- Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate by date of death.
- Daily updates occur around 4 pm UTC.
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