How Covid data compares to this time last year amid fears of washout Christmas

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The UK is recording three-and-a-half times more Covid cases than it was a year ago in the build-up to Boris Johnson’s Christmas shambles, latest data shows.

But the number of deaths is four times lower compared to the same week in 2020 – before the vaccine rollout started.

The Prime Minister is once again facing anxious questions ahead of the festive period as he looks to avoid another disaster similar to 12 months ago.

A year ago England had been in a national lockdown for three weeks, but unknown to the public a new variant – thought to have originated in Kent – was starting to rip through the country.

Despite the restrictions, more than 3,200 lives were lost to the virus in a week last year – a figure that would tragically rise dramatically in coming days.

Fast forward a year and the number of people testing positive is dramatically higher than 2020 levels, but the link between cases and serious illness and death appears to have been dented.

However the unwelcome emergence of the Omicron variant, with 14 confirmed cases in the UK so far, has understandably raised fears of another miserable festive period.

Here we look at the latest figures compared to the situation last year, when the PM belatedly scrapped plans for Christmas mixing.

A year ago the UK was recording a third of the Covid cases it is now
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ZOE)

More than 42,000 cases were confirmed yesterday
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coronavirus.data.gov.uk)

Cases

It’s important to stress at this point that comparing like-for-like is difficult.

A year ago England had been in a national lockdown for more than three weeks, and this had caused cases to fall dramatically.

Unknown to most at the time a new variant, Delta, was driving up infection rates in parts of the South East in spite of restrictions, and in the weeks to come cases rose to record levels.

On November 29, 2020 – a Sunday – the Department of Health confirmed 12,155 people had tested positive for Covid.

Fast forward exactly a year and that number is 42,583 – 3.5 times more.

The number of people testing positive for Covid is 3.5 times higher in November 2021 than in November 2020
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Press Association Images)

Although comparing individual days can be misleading – especially when one is a Sunday while the other is a weekday – there is a stark difference in the seven-day picture.

In the past week there have been 303,322 confirmed infections, whereas in 2020 the seven-day total was 106,565.

Looking at cases alone, the UK is undoubtedly in a worse position than it was a year ago – but this is not the full picture.

Deaths

Yesterday the Department of Health confirmed that a further 35 lives had been lost to Covid-19.

The tragic figure meant that in the previous week, 838 people had died within 28 days of contracting the virus.

This figure is just under a quarter of the weekly death toll a year ago, according to Department of Health data.

In the week leading up to November 29, 2020, 3,221 Covid deaths were recorded across the UK.

On November 29 alone there were 215 fatalities, more than six times higher than the daily figure exactly a year later.

While every coronavirus death is a tragedy, the UK is conclusively in a better position than it was 12 months ago, with vaccines severely denting the link between high cases and hospitalisations and deaths.

More than 7,500 people were last month in hospital with Covid across the UK
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Hospitalizations

Last winter was like no other frontline medics had seen before, and one they never want to see repeated.

Yet again, the difference between last year’s figures and the current situation is stark.

On November 29, 2020, there were 16,313 patients in hospital with Covid-19 across the UK, according to the Department of Health.

Tragically with the lifting of lockdown restrictions this would soar, and by the middle of January more than 38,000 people were being treated.

Latest figures show 7,530 people were in hospital with the virus on Friday – the latest figure available, with 925 in ventilation beds.

This is an enormous strain for exhausted NHS staff who are desperate to avoid the horrendous tragedy that unfolded in December and January last year.

But again it is impossible not to conclude that vaccines and booster jabs have made the UK’s current predicament better than it was 12 months ago.

Vaccinations

Margaret Keenan was the first person in the UK to be vaccinated by the NHS last December
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PA)

It was a huge boost to the national morale when Margaret Keenan became the first NHS patient to be vaccinated against Covid.

The 90-year-old was given her first jab at her local hospital in Coventry and said she couldn’t wait to safely spend time with her family.

But that wouldn’t happen until December 8, meaning that this time last year the UK population was unvaccinated, aside from those who had participated in trials.

Fast forward a year and the progress has been extraordinary, although there is still some way to go.

Latest figures show that 88 per cent of the population aged above 12 have had at least one jab, with 46.3 million receiving two jabs and 17.9 million now with three doses.

There is evidence that vaccines begin to wane after six months, prompting a huge booster jab drive with adults urged to take their third jab when they become eligible and avoid the nightmare of last winter.

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Variants

This is the big unknown.

Twelve months ago, although the public didn’t know it, the notorious Delta variant was taking root in parts of the country and would soon become the dominant strain.

It wasn’t until the middle of December that a worried Boris Johnson announced that a new highly transmissible version of the virus had been identified.

With an unvaccinated population, this spelled disaster in the UK, with Covid deaths spiralling in December and January, finally prompting the PM to impose a third national lockdown.

There was an undoubted sense of deja-vu when the government announced at the weekend that the first cases of the Omicron variant had been found on these shores.

It remains to be seen whether it can evade vaccines and whether it leads to more serious illness.

Medics in South Africa, where the new mutant strain was first identified, have said that it does not appear to be more deadly, but scientists worry it could be more transmissible.

So where does this leave Christmas?

At the weekend the PM was repeatedly quizzed about his outlook for the festive period.

He said he is hopeful that no restrictions will be necessary – but then he said this last year before abruptly admitting his ‘bubble’ plan wasn’t feasible.

There are currently 25 days until Christmas, which in Covid terms is a long time.

On November 30 last year there were 12,330 cases, but by Christmas Day this had more than doubled to December 25.

As long as hospitalisations remain comparatively now the government will be optimistic a relatively normal Christmas can go ahead.

Experts will be keeping a very close eye on the data over the coming days and weeks.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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