Covid rates: why are coronavirus infection and death rates so high in UK - and how do cases compare to Europe?

There has been a surge in Covid cases across the UK this month, with rates much higher than some countries in Europe and worldwide

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Covid cases in the UK have spiked with a daily rate of more than 40,000, surpassing many other countries around the world.

The Government has said there are no plans to activate its winter “Plan B”, which would see requirements to wear face masks and the compulsory use of vaccine passports to enter England’s nightclubs and other crowded venues.

It comes after there were a further 49,139 lab confirmed Covid cases as of Wednesday (20 October) and a further 179 deaths.

Downing Street said they would continue to monitor the latest figures for the disease, but that the numbers of hospital admissions and deaths were still “substantially lower” than they were earlier in the year.

However, there have been calls to introduce a “Plan C” amid the surge in cases.

Here’s why the case rate is so high in the UK, and how it compares to other countries.


How does the UK compare to other countries?

Covid rates in the UK are much higher than many other nations in Europe. On Tuesday (19 October) the UK recorded 43,628 new cases, with a rate of 651.6 cases per million of population, a figure which has been steadily rising since the start of the month. There were 223 deaths. The UK’s total recorded Covid cases is 8.54 million.

It is a vastly different picture in France, which has had a total of 7.19m cases, with 6,038 in the past day and a rate per million of population of 70.1 and 40 deaths.

Meanwhile, in Spain there were 1,889 new cases in the past day, and the rate per million of population was 40.7, while there were 32 deaths.

Italy had 2,695 new cases in the past day with a case rate of 42.3 per million and 70 deaths.

Outside of Europe, Australia, which has recorded 149,398 cases had 2,097 new cases with a population rate of 88.4 per million and 19 deaths.

And in the USA the population rate was 244.4 per million, with 81,238 new cases that day and 2,357 deaths. The US has recorded a total of 45.1m Covid cases.

Dr Lindsay BroadbentDr Lindsay Broadbent
Dr Lindsay Broadbent

Why are rates in the UK so high?

Dr Lindsay Broadbent a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences (MDBS), said the pace of the booster jab rollout and child vaccinations could be a contributing factor.

She said: “The high case numbers and increasing number of deaths in the UK is worrying. There are many factors that may contribute to this.

“The UK has put so much emphasis on the vaccines while many other countries in western Europe have adopted a ‘vaccines + mitigations’ strategy. The initial vaccine rollout in the UK was fast and efficient but adoption of booster programs and vaccinating 12-15 year olds has been slower.”

Dr Broadbent, who is currently working on a Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Fellowship to investigate the immune responses to respiratory viruses, added: “It is worth remembering though that while the UK experienced the highest daily death toll this week since the beginning of March, cases are currently eight times higher now.

“The fact we are not seeing a similar increase in hospitalisations and deaths is primarily due to the incredibly effective vaccines.”

Professor Hugh Pennington says race is on to develop a vaccine before 'virus disappears'Professor Hugh Pennington says race is on to develop a vaccine before 'virus disappears'
Professor Hugh Pennington says race is on to develop a vaccine before 'virus disappears'

Commenting on the high Covid case numbers in the UK, Professor Hugh Pennington, an emeritus professor in bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, told NationalWorld: “One obvious explanation is they’ve (other countries) been less keen on relaxing all the controls than we have, and I think you can make a link between that.

“Particularly in England people are really going about their business as normal, whereas in other parts of Europe they’ve gone for vaccine passports and that sort of thing much more aggressively.

“In Scotland the figures aren’t so bad, but they are still far from satisfactory. We haven’t relaxed as much as England in terms of the regulations. We have relaxed many of the regulations, although we brought in vaccine passports for big events.

“Even in Scotland and the rest of the UK we are at a much higher level of cases than many European countries where they have been more reluctant to relax the regulations.

“The vaccination programme is obviously run very well in the UK, but it seems to have run a little bit out of steam in the last two or three weeks.”

What could be done to help?

The NHS Confederation is the membership organisation that represents the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS is preparing for what could be “the most challenging winter on record” and urged the public to “show extra support for the NHS by “behaving in ways that will keep themselves and others safe”.

He added: “It is time for the Government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without pre-emptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis.

The rate of child vaccinations and booster jabs could be among the reasons why the rates of Covid are so high in the UK.The rate of child vaccinations and booster jabs could be among the reasons why the rates of Covid are so high in the UK.
The rate of child vaccinations and booster jabs could be among the reasons why the rates of Covid are so high in the UK.

“Also, health leaders need to understand what a ‘Plan C’ would entail if these measures are insufficient.

“The Government should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.”

Mr Taylor said if the Government “fails to get a grip” on rising coronavirus cases, the nation’s recovery from the pandemic could be “put at risk”.

He also said: “Mask wearing in crowded places, avoiding unnecessary indoor gatherings, I think working from home if you can.

“I don’t underestimate that these are inconveniences but we have to make a choice if we can see what is almost inevitable down the line.”

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