The virus began circulating in the country in early 2020, arriving primarily from travel elsewhere in Europe. Various sectors responded, with more widespread public health measures incrementally introduced from March 2020. The first wave was at the time one of the world's largest outbreaks. By mid-April the peak had been passed and restrictions were gradually eased. A second wave, with a new variant that originated in the UK becoming dominant, began in the autumn and peaked in mid-January 2021, and was deadlier than the first. The UK started the world's first COVID-19 vaccination programme in early December 2020. Generalised restrictions were gradually lifted and were mostly ended by August 2021. A third wave, fuelled by the new Delta variant, began in July 2021, but the rate of deaths and hospitalisations was lower than with the first two waves – this being attributed to the mass vaccination programme. By early December 2021, the Omicron variant had arrived, and caused record infection levels.
The UK government and each of the three devolved governments (in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) introduced public health and economic measures, including new laws, to mitigate its impact. A national lockdown was introduced on 23 March 2020 and lifted in May, being replaced with specific regional restrictions. Further nationwide lockdowns were introduced in autumn and winter 2020 in response to a surge in cases. Most restrictions were lifted during the Delta-variant-driven third wave in mid-2021. The "winter plan" reintroduced some rules in response to the Omicron variant in December 2021. Economic support was given to struggling businesses including a furlough scheme for employees.
Scientists used statistical analysis of data from genetic sequencing, combined with epidemiological and estimated travel data, to estimate the source locations of the virus in the UK up to the beginning of March 2020, and following the initial importations which were likely from China or elsewhere in Asia. From this analysis they estimated that about 33% were from Spain, 29% from France, 12% from Italy and 26% from elsewhere.
^On 25 March PHE changed reporting of deaths to be correct up to 17:00 the previous day, while cases are reported up to 09:00 the same day. Deaths reported for Tuesday 24 March only covered from 09:00 to 17:00 on that day; subsequent reporting is for 24-hour periods from 17:00 to 17:00.
^Figures for 27 March and after include additional cases from tests carried out on key workers.
^Starting with the figures published on 29 April, deaths in all settings are now included. Previously, only deaths in hospitals were included in the official figures. The numbers in this table have been updated with backdated figures for previous dates.
^Positive cases are 27 lower than the difference between today’s and yesterday’s cumulative. This is due to Northern Ireland not processing testing data for 17 May, and the removal of a quality control sample from Wales data.
^Reduction in the cumulative total is due to unpublished corrections, and the reallocation of some positive test results to previous days.
^111 deaths were reported for 31 May. However, the cumulative total was revised to include an additional 445 deaths from the period from 26 April to 31 May identified by PHE as COVID-19 deaths having received a positive test. The numbers in this table have been updated with backdated figures from 23 May onwards.
^The methodology of reporting positive cases has been updated to remove duplicates within and across pillars 1 and 2, to ensure that a person who tests positive is only counted once. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of cumulative tests.
Pillar 1: swab testing in Public Health England (PHE) labs and NHS hospitals for those with a clinical need, and health and care workers.
Pillar 2: swab testing for the wider population, as set out in government guidance.
^Total positive cases reported for 14 July include an additional 842 cases from a testing laboratory in Wales. These positive cases should have been reflected in the data for 13 July. Had they been included in the 13 July data, there would have been 398 positive cases reported on 14 July, and the increases for 13 July and 14 July would have been 0.47% and 0.14% respectively.
^The way daily death figures are calculated is currently under review. Statement from HM Government: "The Secretary of State has today, 17 July, asked PHE to urgently review their estimation of daily death statistics. Currently the daily deaths measure counts all people who have tested positive for coronavirus and since died, with no cut-off between time of testing and date of death. There have been claims that the lack of cut-off may distort the current daily deaths number. We are therefore pausing the publication of the daily figure while this is resolved."
^After a review, the way daily death figures are calculated was changed. The daily death figures now only includes cases where a death occurred within 28 days of a positive test.
^ abA backlog of positive test results from the previous week are included in this figure. Statement from Public Health England: "Due to a technical issue, which has now been resolved, there has been a delay in publishing a number of COVID-19 cases to the dashboard in England. This means the total reported over the coming days will include some additional cases from the period between 24 September and 1 October, increasing the number of cases reported."
^Includes a backlog of 141 deaths. Statement from HM Government: "Due to a processing update, 141 historical deaths within 28 days in England were excluded from the published data on 21 November. This issue was corrected for data published on 22 November, which included deaths omitted on 21 November within the total and daily number of newly reported deaths for 22 November."
^Includes a backlog of about 11,000 positive test results from Wales. Statement from HM Government: "The number of new UK cases reported on 17 December 2020 includes around 11,000 previously unreported cases for Wales as a result of system maintenance in the NHS Wales Laboratory Information Management System."
^3 March: 172 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were added to Scotland and UK totals.
^13 March: Daily counts of deaths in England rely on multiple data sources. On 13 March 2021 there was a delay in receiving this information from one of these sources. This might have a small impact on the total number of deaths reported on that date. This delay will be reflected on the numbers published on 14 March 2021.
^18 May: 4,776 additional cases from England were removed
^19 May: further 561 additional cases from England were removed
^20 May: further 180 additional cases from England were removed
^Because of a public holiday, no data has been updated for Wales and only headline cases, vaccinations and deaths are available from Northern Ireland.
^Because of a network issue at Public Health Wales on 8 October 2021, cases and deaths within 28 days of positive test were reported after the UK dashboard was updated.
^Because of technical issues at Public Health Wales yesterday, the cases and deaths reported today cover a 72-hour period.
^Deaths data was not received from NHS England on 1st November 2021. This means that two days’ worth of data from this data source are potentially included in today’s figures.
^Public Health Scotland (PHS) are investigating a processing issue with UK Government Pillar 2 lab tests contributing to lower than expected cases. This means reported case numbers for Scotland on 4 December 2021 are likely lower than would have been expected.
^Issue with cases by test type – Because of a processing issue, positive lateral flow tests followed by a negative PCR test in England were not removed on 20 Dec 2021. Today's figures include removals for 2 days.
^The COVID-19 dashboard will not be updated on 25-26 December 2021. Daily reporting will resume on 27 December 2021. The availability of data will vary over the festive period.
^England reported number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test for 27 December 2021 is the sum of deaths that would have been reported between 25 and 27 of December 2021. No data have been reported for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales data include deaths that were reported on 26 December 2021.
^Incomplete data for deaths due to holidays – No data have been reported for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
^Newly reported figures from Northern Ireland for testing, cases and deaths reflect the difference in totals reported on 29 December and those last published by Northern Ireland on 24 December 2021. Figures for cases and deaths are available by specimen date and date of death respectively. Retrospective report date figures for each day from 25 to 28 December are not available.
^Today’s death figures include a backlog of hospital deaths reported overnight by NHS England covering the period 24th–29th December.
^Cases and deaths data are only included for England. Data for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will be updated after the holidays.
^Cases and deaths data are only included for England and Wales. Data for Scotland and Northern Ireland will be updated after the holidays.
^Cases data only include figures for England and Scotland. Deaths data only include figures for England
^Newly-reported figures of tests conducted, cases and deaths for Northern Ireland cover a 4-day period, and for Wales cover a 2-day period. Newly-reported figures for cases in Scotland are only available at national level. Data for deaths in Scotland have not been updated. The UK total therefore includes only newly-reported deaths in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Figures for cases and deaths by specimen date and date of death have been updated for England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
^Today’s death figures include a backlog of hospital deaths reported overnight by NHS England covering the period 1–4 January. Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate registered in the week ending 24 December 2021 are only available for England and Wales. The UK total number includes England and Wales only.
^The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has corrected the number of deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate for the week ending 24 December 2021. Some deaths were not included in the published figures because of an issue with the ONS automated coding system.
^From 6 January in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and 11 January in England, people with positive lateral flow results for COVID-19 need to report their result but don’t need to take a confirmatory PCR test unless they develop COVID-19 symptoms. This is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK as the vast majority of people with positive lateral flow test results can be confident that they have COVID-19.
^Figures for cases, deaths and vaccinations that were not reported from Scotland yesterday have been retrospectively added to the totals for 16 January 2022. The missing data have also been added to the UK figures for 16 January.
Though later reporting indicated that there may have been some cases dating from late 2019, COVID-19 was confirmed to be spreading in the UK by the end of January 2020 with the first confirmed deaths in March. Subsequent epidemiological analysis showed that over 1000 lineages of SARS-CoV-2 entered the UK in early 2020 from international travellers, mostly from outbreaks elsewhere in Europe, leading to numerous clusters that overwhelmed contact tracing efforts. Limited testing and surveillance meant during the early weeks of the pandemic, case numbers were underestimated, obscuring the extent of the outbreak.
A legally-enforced Stay at Home Order, or lockdown, was introduced on 23 March, banning all non-essential travel and contact with other people, and shut schools, businesses, venues and gathering places. People were told to keep apart in public. Those with symptoms, and their households, were told to self-isolate, while those considered at highest risk were told to shield. The health services worked to raise hospital capacity and established temporary critical care hospitals, but initially faced some shortages of personal protective equipment. By mid-April it was reported that restrictions had "flattened the curve" of the epidemic and the UK had passed its peak after 26,000 deaths. The UK's overall death toll and by population surpassed that of Italy on 3 May, making the UK the worst affected country in Europe at the time. Restrictions were steadily eased across the UK in late spring and early summer that year. The UK's epidemic in early 2020 was at the time one of the largest worldwide.
The first COVID-19 vaccine was approved and began being deployed across the UK in early December; with a staggered rollout prioritising the most vulnerable and then moving to progressively younger age groups. The UK was the first country to do so, and in early 2021 its vaccination program was one of the fastest in the world. By August 2021, more than 75% of adults in the UK were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Quarantine rules for all incoming travellers were introduced for the first time in late January. Restrictions began to ease from late February onwards and almost all had ended in Great Britain by August.
A third wave of daily infections began in July 2021 due to the arrival and rapid spread of the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. However, mass vaccination continued to keep deaths and hospitalisations at much lower levels than in previous waves. Infection rates remained high and hospitalisations and deaths rose into the autumn. In December, the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant was confirmed to have arrived and begun spreading widely in the community, particularly in London, driving a further increase in cases that surpassed previous records, although the true number of infections was thought to be higher. It became mandatory for people to show proof of full vaccination or proof that they are not infected to enter certain indoor hospitality and entertainment venues. On January 9 2022, the UK became the seventh country worldwide to pass 150,000 reported[nb 1] COVID-19 deaths.
The British government had developed a pandemic response plan in previous years. In response to the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in January 2020, the UK introduced advice for travellers coming from affected countries in late January and February 2020, and began contact tracing, although this was later abandoned. The government incrementally introduced further societal restrictions on the public as the virus spread across the country in the following weeks, initially resisting more stringent measures introduced elsewhere in Europe and Asia. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown on 23 March 2020 and Parliament introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020, which granted the devolved governments emergency powers and empowered the police to enforce public health measures.
The British government's response, in particular the timeliness of public health measures being introduced and lifted, has faced criticism from academic medical sources, media outlets, relatives of COVID-19 victims and some political figures. A public inquiry into the response will take place in 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the largest fall in life expectancy in England since records began in 1981. On average, British COVID-19 victims lost around a decade of life; the last time deaths rose so sharply in the UK was during World War II. In 2020, the disease was the leading cause of death among men, and second leading cause among women. Research suggests over 1 million people in the UK have had Long COVID, with the majority reporting substantial impacts on day-to-day life. The pandemic's major impact on the country's healthcare system, leading to long waiting lists for medical procedures and ambulances, also led to an indirect increase in deaths from other conditions. The lockdown also had a major mental health impact.
In August 2021, a report from Age UK found that 27% of people over 60 could not walk as far and 25% were living in more physical pain earlier this year compared to the start of the pandemic. 54% of older people felt less confident attending a hospital appointment, and 37% of older people felt less confident going to a GP surgery.
The pandemic was widely disruptive to the economy of the United Kingdom, with most sectors and workforces adversely affected. Some temporary shutdowns became permanent; some people who were furloughed were later made redundant. The economic disruption has had a significant impact on people's mental health—with particular damage to the mental health of foreign-born men whose work hours have been reduced/eliminated.
The pandemic has had far-reaching consequences in the country that go beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to quarantine it, including political, cultural, and social implications.
Spread to other countries and territories
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 upon her return from WE Day events in the UK; on 12 March 2020 the Trudeau family entered two weeks of self-isolation. The first patient in Mauritius was a 59-year-old man who returned from the United Kingdom on 7 March 2020. When he arrived in Mauritius, the Mauritian had no symptoms. Other cases of the novel coronavirus resulting from travel to the UK were subsequently reported in India and Nigeria.
On 16 June 2020, it was widely reported in British media that New Zealand's first COVID-19 cases in 24 days were diagnosed in two British women, both of whom had travelled from the UK and were given special permission to visit a dying parent. The women had entered the country on 7 June, after first flying into Doha and Brisbane.
A 2021 study suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant which was first detected in Kent is thought to have began its spread to many countries internationally from flights originating in London in late 2020.
This article presents official statistics gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.
The official daily report from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) counts those who died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus. It "could be the major cause, a contributory factor or simply present when they are dying of something else". From 29 April 2020, the official figures include all coronavirus-positive deaths in the UK, wherever they happened. Before then, the official daily toll included only hospital deaths in England, but included all coronavirus-positive deaths in the rest of the UK wherever they happened, if known to public health agencies. There may be a delay between a death and it entering official statistics so families can be informed; this delay is usually a few days, but can be longer.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) issues a weekly report covering the four countries, which counts all deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate; not necessarily as the main cause of death. As of 21 September 2021[update], the total of registered deaths mentioning COVID-19 up till 10 September was 160,374, comprising 146,380 deaths for England, 8,129 for Wales, 10,688 for Scotland and 3,306 for Northern Ireland. In addition 184 non-UK residents died in England and Wales. This incorporates data from the National Records of Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. This figure is higher because it also counts deaths where no test was done. The ONS has analysed death certificates for England and Wales to the end of 2020 and shown that 91% of deaths which mention COVID-19 state this as the main cause of death (compared with 18% for flu and pneumonia).
Reports from the Medical Research Council's Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London have been providing mathematically calculated estimates of cases and case fatality rates. In February 2020, the team at Imperial College, led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, estimated about two-thirds of cases in travellers from China were not detected and that some of these may have begun "chains of transmission within the countries they entered". They forecast that the new type of coronavirus could infect up to 60% of the UK's population, in the worst-case scenario.
In a paper on 16 March, the Imperial College team provided detailed forecasts of the potential impacts of the epidemic in the UK and US. It detailed the potential outcomes of an array of 'non-pharmaceutical interventions'. Two potential overall strategies outlined were: mitigation, in which the aim is to reduce the health impact of the epidemic but not to stop transmission completely; and suppression, where the aim is to reduce transmission rates to a point where case numbers fall. Until this point, government actions had been based on a strategy of mitigation, but the modelling predicted that while this would reduce deaths by approximately 2/3, it would still lead to approximately 250,000 deaths from the disease and the health systems becoming overwhelmed. On 16 March, the Prime Minister announced changes to government advice, extending self-isolation to whole households, advising social distancing particularly for vulnerable groups, and indicating that further measures were likely to be required in the future. A paper on 30 March by the Imperial College group estimated that the lockdown would reduce the number of dead from 510,000 to less than 20,000. This paper and others relied on data from European countries including the UK to estimate that the combined non-pharmaceutical interventions reduced the reproduction number of the virus by 67-87%, enough to stop infections from growing. However, followup work concluded that the effectiveness of interventions was lower in later waves of infections.
In April 2020, biostatistician Professor Sheila Bird said the delay in the reporting of deaths from the virus meant there was a risk of underestimating the steepness of the rising epidemic trend.
In December 2021 scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicted that Omicron could cause from 25,000 to 75,000 deaths in England over the five months to April unless there are more stringent restrictions. Omicron will probably be the dominant variant by the end December.