UK Covid rates are now falling rapidly despite dire warnings for the winter

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A doctor monitors a Covid-19 patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit of the community hospital in Germany on April 28, 2021.

RONNY HARTMANN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — The U.K. has had the unenviable title of having one of the worst Covid-19 rates in the world, with cases soaring in recent months.

But its fortunes appear to be changing.

Less than a month ago, the U.K. was recording between 40,000 to 50,000 new cases every day, prompting dire warnings from experts and officials over mounting pressure on hospitals and excess deaths.

On Oct. 20, the U.K.’s Health Minister Sajid Javid warned that Covid cases could yet climb as high as 100,000 per day as the winter progressed and doctors said that the National Health Service was heading for a crisis, with staff exhausted and overstretched.

Making matters potentially far worse, public health experts warned that they were monitoring a mutation of the already-highly-infectious delta variant that could make Covid even more virulent.

But the latest data from the U.K. shows that the country could be recovering from its latest wave of cases, with experts saying Britain has just seen its biggest weekly drop in the number of new Covid cases in 2021.

Biggest weekly drop this year

Government data shows that while the U.K.’s Covid case rate remains high — and worryingly high for many people — the data appears to be improving.

On Wednesday, the U.K. recorded 39,329 new Covid cases and in the last seven days just over 237,000 Covid cases have been reported in total. While a large number, the latter seven-day figure is an almost 15% drop from the previous seven-day period of Oct. 28 to Nov. 3.

According to average incidence figures from the ZOE COVID Study, which collects and analyses Covid test data in the U.K., there are currently 72,546 new daily symptomatic cases of Covid.

This represents a decrease of 18% from 88,592 new daily cases last week, the study said, adding that there was a sharp decline in cases among most age groups.

“The number of daily new cases continues to show a steep decline in cases among 0-18 year olds, which is the driving group behind both the initial increases and the recent fall in overall case numbers. Cases in 20-29 year olds are still increasing but cases have started to fall in the 35-55 year age group. Cases among those over 55 are levelling off.”

The ZOE COVID Study’s lead scientist, Professor Tim Spector, said the data was positive but needed to be kept in perspective. He also urged eligible members of the public to take up the offer of booster shots which experts believe are also helping the U.K.’s case rates to fall.

“This drop in cases is the largest weekly decline we’ve seen all year, and is being driven by a sustained fall in cases among children over the last two weeks. However, cases are still high and, worryingly, we’re still seeing high death rates as Covid takes up to 8% of hospital beds,” he said on Thursday.

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Spector said that, as we head into the colder months, “we’re seeing a lot of sickness in the population with widespread outbreaks of colds and still high levels of Covid” and that it was tricky to know the difference between the two given that both have similar symptoms (cases in vaccinated people tend to be milder and include symptoms like sneezing, headache and a runny nose, similar to a cold.)

Europe’s bright spot?

For much of the pandemic, the U.K. has been a dark spot in Europe’s pandemic and it has the eighth highest death toll from Covid in the world, having recorded 142,533 deaths to date, government data shows.

The U.K. has also recorded over 9.4 million Covid cases so far, having borne the brunt of two strong waves of the pandemic on the back of the alpha and delta variants.

The U.K.’s bold authorization and rollout of Covid vaccines attracted plaudits (it was one of the first countries in the world to roll out vaccines in December 2020) but its immunization drive slowed in the summer this year and has slipped behind a number of its neighbors on the continent. To date, 79.8% of the U.K. population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated.

In the neighboring Netherlands, a pandemic advisory panel recommended imposing western Europe’s first partial lockdown since the summer, putting pressure on the Dutch government to take action to curb soaring Covid cases. The government under caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to decide on Friday what measures to implement.

Read more: WHO warns that Europe is once again at the epicenter of the Covid pandemic

In the warmer climes of Italy and Spain, cases are also starting to rise but at a lower level, with officials in both countries anxious to stave off another wave of infections as winter approaches.

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