UK Covid-19 cases and deaths: how the UK is coping with a second wave

The NHS will be overwhelmed within weeks without a national lockdown in England, Boris Johnson warned, as he ordered the country to stay at home in a bid to reverse the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking on October 31, the Prime Minister said that without action, deaths would reach "several thousand a day", with a "peak of mortality" worse than the country saw during the lockdown in April.

Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail across the nation closed on Thursday 5 November, and people have been told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, but schools, colleges and nurseries will remain open.

People are allowed outside to exercise and socialise in public spaces with their household or one other person, but not indoors or in private gardens, and will be able to travel to work if they cannot work from home.

Furlough payments at 80 per cent will be extended for the duration of the restrictions as high streets once again shut up shop.

MPs voted in favour of the new measures before they were introduced at 12.01am on Thursday, November 5, and when they lapse on December 2, the three tier system will be reintroduced.

The hope is that Covid-19 cases will drop low enough to keep on top of outbreaks at a regional level.

In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said "no responsible Prime Minister can ignore" the rising rates of Covid-19 infections as he announced the lockdown.

He said "we need to be humble in the face of nature", adding that the virus was spreading even faster than the worst case scenario envisaged by scientists.

According to the latest figures released by the Government, there are currently 1,317,496 known cases in the UK, and  51,304 people have died.

The UK became the first country in Europe to pass the 50,000 milestone, and only the fifth country to do so after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico. 

The Telegraph’s map below plots where all official cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK. It is sourced from Public Health England announcements and updated regularly based on trustworthy data.

Coronavirus UKLA current

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Public Health England releases a daily update on the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in each English county.

Using The Telegraph’s Coronavirus Live Tracker, you can follow the disease’s spread, the latest information on symptoms, and the UK’s rate of growth.

Type your postcode into the tool below to find out how many cases there have been in your local area and whether they are rising or falling.

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How the NHS managed

From the outbreak of the virus, the NHS was hit by a number of critical issues:

PPE: When the virus erupted in Britain, NHS workers complained that a shortage of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) put them at risk. Some staff were forced to wear bin bags as makeshift protection. The Government was criticised for shipping millions of pieces of PPE to Europe, despite the shortage, and for purchasing a massive quantity of masks and gowns, bought from factories in China and Turkey, that were found to fall below UK standards. Calls for an inquiry into the Government’s procurement process mounted after it emerged the taxpayer had spent an “eye-watering” £15 billion on PPE. 

Ventilators: At the start of the outbreak, the Government ordered 8,000 ventilators, used to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients, with a promise that the first batch would be in hospitals by April. By June 10, only about 5,000 new ventilators had been delivered to the NHS and ministers decided that hospitals had a sufficient supply. Derek Hill, of University College London, was a member of the Independent Regulatory Advisory Group which examined new designs of ventilators. He said the Government wasted time trying to develop entirely new machines. “It was trying to reinvent the wheel thinking it would be quicker," Mr Hill said. “They misunderstood the complexity of these devices and the risk from the start. For novel designs it was pretty obvious they did not meet the clinical need and would take a long time to get through the regulatory process.”

Care homes: The Government’s strategy to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed with coronavirus cases led to elderly people being discharged from hospitals back into care homes, to clear space in wards. This was done without testing for infection, despite the risk of transmission. It emerged that Public Health England had warned the Government about doing this in February, and officials were criticised for not testing patients before they were transferred, despite repeated warnings from care home managers that it was seeding infections among the most vulnerable. The Telegraph reported on October 21 that staff will be banned from working in more than one care home in an attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus. The Telegraph understands the Government is drawing up legislation that will make it illegal for care homes to employ staff working at multiple sites. It follows concerns repeatedly expressed by Government scientists that outbreaks within the sector are "seeding" infections across whole communities, with agency workers singled out. 

Contact tracing: The UK was much-criticised for abandoning contact tracing on March 13 while other countries, which have achieved a lower death toll, continued to trace contacts and cut off routes of transmission for the virus. The UK’s first attempt at a contact tracing app was abandoned in May, after an unsuccessful trial on the Isle of Wight. Scotland and Northern Ireland currently have their own independent apps, while the latest version of the England and Wales app launched in late September.

NHS deaths and staff shortages: A number of doctors, nurses and NHS staff died from coronavirus. At the height of the outbreak, many NHS staff were sick or forced to quarantine because of suspected exposure. MPs were told in July that hospitals had failed to test their workers for coronavirus because they feared having to send too many of them home, when almost half were infected at the peak of the pandemic. In March, anticipating a shortage of NHS staff, Health Secretary Matt Hancock launched a call for a UK “army” of 750,000 volunteers. Many medical students joined the efforts, and retired doctors and nurses came back to work to fight the virus.

Non-Covid cases: A combination of lockdown, people’s fear of the pandemic and prioritising emergency capacity led to a tremendous NHS case backlog. Particularly affected are routine operations and cancer treatments, with some hospitals described as being “at a stand-still”.  More than 111,000 people have now been waiting for routine NHS treatment for over a year and routine hospital treatments are down 43 per cent. A campaign, "Help Us to Help You", tells patients that they will not be viewed as a "burden" if they attempt to seek help for non-Covid ailments this winter. It comes amid fears that the mantra of "Protect the NHS" led to thousands of patients being unable or unwilling to seek help during the first wave. Hospitals have again begun cancelling thousands of operations, amid warnings that beds could be overwhelmed in three weeks unless action is taken.More than 20 NHS trusts have started postponing surgery – including some cases involving cancer patients, as hospitals come under growing pressure from Covid cases.

How the UK got into and out of a national lockdown

On March 23, Boris Johnson placed the UK on a police-enforced lockdown with drastic measures in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

The Prime Minister ordered people only to leave their homes under a list of “very limited purposes”, banning mass gatherings and ordering the closure of non-essential shops.

Mr Johnson announced his phase two strategy on May 10, outlining a gradual easing of the restrictions, rather than a wholesale lifting of the lockdown. However, reaction to his speech was fierce, with many accusing the Prime Minister of confusing the British public.

On May 11, Mr Johnson published his “roadmap” to leave lockdown, setting out a three-phase strategy to gradually lift the current restrictions.

Mr Johnson later announced on May 28 that the five tests to ease lockdown had been met, confirming that gatherings of up to six people could take place in outdoor spaces from June 1. 

On June 23 – exactly three months after the country was put into lockdown – Mr Johnson hailed the beginning of the end of Britain’s “national hibernation”.

The Prime Minister allowed families and friends to mingle indoors and even go on holiday together from July 4. This day, which became known as Super Saturday, also saw pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen, as the two metre social distancing rule was reduced to one metre.

But Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, warned that many of new social distancing measures would have to remain in place “until this time next year” because a coronavirus vaccine is still a long way off.

On July 17, Mr Johnson set out his roadmap for ending lockdown, which allowed remaining leisure facilities to reopen and all beauty treatments to resume from August 1. Mr Johnson also relaxed official guidance advising people to "work from home if you can" in a bid to restart the economy.

The government is keen to avoid another blanket lockdown. However, preventing a national lockdown will depend on how effectively the Government can respond if the infection rate rises quickly in multiple areas of the UK.

As of September 14, gatherings of more than six people are banned in England. The Government has introduced these tough new measures to combat a sharp rise in coronavirus infection rates.

On September 22, the Prime Minister announced a raft of new measures including a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants, a 15-person cap on weddings and a return to working at home for office workers, which are likely to remain in place until March, a year on from the start of lockdown.

As the rate of new cases showed no sign of slowing, Mr Johnson announced on October 12 a new three-tier system of local lockdowns. 

However, Mr Johnson announced a new national lockdown across England on Saturday 31 October, after a rapid rise in coronavirus cases. The new measures came into effect on Thursday 5 November and will last until Wednesday 2 December. 

Once the national lockdown eases on December 2, the country will continue to follow the restrictions from the previous tier system.

How might we prevent another lockdown in the future?

On November 9th, the UK welcomed the news of an exciting new coronavirus vaccine from Germany, known as the Pfizer vaccine. This scientific breakthrough, which is over 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19, may prevent national lockdowns in the future, as reports suggest that the vaccine could reach the UK before Christmas. 

However, despite this promising breakthrough, the Prime Minister has emphasised the need for caution, as the vaccine is still in its “very, very early days”. Johnson then went on to stress the need for the current lockdown restrictions, saying: 

“The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at a critical moment.”

New guidance issued by American health officials has also offered some insight into why Covid-19 outbreaks have been more severe in the European countries, such as the UK.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has said that cloth face masks help shield the wearer from coronavirus infection and are not just to protect surrounding people. The guidelines go well beyond earlier declarations that masks should be worn in consideration of others, and say they prevent the wearer breathing in virus carrying water droplets.

The health body suggested that the failure of America and European nations to grasp quickly the protective importance of masks could be the reason Covid-19 outbreaks have been far worse than in Asian countries who managed to quickly subdue the virus.

Three-tier Covid lockdown map

How did coronavirus spread? 

At the end of December, the Chinese authorities sent out a public alert warning that a “pneumonia of unknown cause” had been identified in Wuhan, central China.

Some 10 days later, on January 7, 2020, scientists announced that a new coronavirus was the source of the outbreak – quickly adding that it did not appear to be spreading between humans.

At that point, fewer than 60 cases had been found. The UK’s first confirmed cases were diagnosed on January 31 – tourists in York – although a number of people had fallen ill with Covid-like symptoms earlier in the year after returning from abroad.

The virus, since given the name SARS-CoV-2, has spread to well over 180 countries, infecting more than 53 million people with the disease Covid-19 and killing more than 1.2 million. Scientists believe that the virus mutated into two strains based on differentiation of the protein “Spike” that gives the virus its distinctive “crown” shape. An “L-type” variation accounted for around 70 per cent of cases, displacing the older “S-type”. It is a matter of scientific debate whether this means the newer variant is more infectious, while vaccine developers believe that new treatments will be effective against both current strains. 

This map, which updates automatically, shows where the disease is now, how many cases there have been and how many people have died:  

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