Covid: Four years after first case in UK, how widespread is coronavirus now?

Four years on from the start of the pandemic, how prevalent is Covid how is it affecting the NHS and are people still dying from the illness?

Matt Mathers
Wednesday 31 January 2024 15:54 GMT
Covid put immense pressure on the NHS during the pandemic and cases are still leading to hospitalisation
Covid put immense pressure on the NHS during the pandemic and cases are still leading to hospitalisation (PA)

Four years have passed since the first case of Covid was confirmed in the UK - the beginning of a pandemic that would change how we all lived in our lives and kill more than 200,000 people.

After two years of intermittent lockdowns and restrictions on what people could and could not do, in February 2022 the government lifted all legal Covid rules as members of the public were asked to practice safe and responsible behaviours.

People were no longer required to wear masks in public places, limit the number of people they could see, or provide negative Covid tests to enter some venues as had been the case during previous lockdowns.

Experts say it’s important for people to do what they can to reduce transmission of Covid, including getting a vaccine for those who are eligible (PA)

After most people got vaccinated against the virus, the UK began to follow a “living with Covid” strategy as health officials sought to “manage the infection like other respiratory illnesses” such as the cold and flu.

But while virus restrictions have been lifted, Covid continues circulating in the UK. But just how prevalent is it, how is it affecting the NHS and are people still dying from the illness?

How many people have Covid?

The estimated prevalence of Covid in England and Scotland was 2.3 per cent ( around 1,352,000 people) according to the most recently available official data from 10 January 2024.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) winter infection study estimates the number of people who have Covid because it is no longer mandatory for people to report their test results if they get infected.

The most recent report said the prevalence of Covid in England and Scotland had decreased in the TWO weeks leading up to 10 January 2024.”

It was down from 4.1 per cent on 27 December 2023 and remains much lower than the rate seen during previous waves of the virus.

Professor Steven Riley, director general for data and surveillance at UKHSA said the figures confirmed the early signs of a decline in Covid across the country.

But he warned that this did not mean the risk of becoming ill with Covid has gone away.

A view of the National Covid Memorial Wall in London (EPA)

“In previous years, we have sometimes seen a decline in early January followed by an increase over the next few weeks, so it remains important that we continue to do what we can to reduce transmission,” he said.

Those people who are most at risk of severe illness from Covid can still receive a seasonal vaccination until the end of this month, and we urge anyone eligible who has not already done so to come forward.”

How many people are in hospital with Covid?

Far fewer people are being admitted to hospital with Covid than during previous years, although a significant are still ending up on wards for treatment.

According to official data, 3,790 people were admitted to hospital with Covid between 12 and 19 January.

This is compared with a peak of 38,000 people in the week to 20 January 2021.

How many people are dying from Covid?

In the week ending 12 January 2024, there were 388 deaths involving Covid in England and Wales and 277 deaths due to Covid, according to official data.

The most deaths reported on a single day at the height of the pandemic was on 19 January 2021, when 1,490 fatalities were logged.

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