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A Report on COVID-19 in the UK

Issuing time:2020-12-06 10:33Author:沈月盈Source:原创

1. The General Situation of the UK Outbreak

Recently, the surge of new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK has once again brought the country to the spotlight to the epidemic outbreak. Until November 25th, 2020, there have been a total of 1.59 million confirmed cases and more than 55 thousand deaths, with 15 thousand new cases confirmed. In the latest daily data of the UK government, 33 thousand people tested positive for the virus on November 13, a record since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the following week, the number of new cases decreased by 13.7%, and the infection curve began to flatten.


Data from WHO: UK new confirmed cases and death toll on November 24th, 2020

In the review of the UK COVID-19 outbreak, London was the first city affected. But since then, the epicenter of the coronavirus has moved northward to Northern Ireland. However, since September, the infection rate has risen rapidly in England, especially in the north, where Liverpool is suffering the most severe epidemic, with about 600 cases per 100 thousand people, more than that in Madrid, Spain and Brussels, Belgium.


Data from the Department of Health and Social Welfare of the UK: the Map of All Cases in the UK

The dynamic curve of the UK outbreak also saw an unusual V shape. After peaking for the first time in early April, the number of cases began to drop from May to early July. Nevertheless, the number of new deaths in the UK after the first wave still ranks the highest in Europe. However, since August, the number of new cases per day in the UK has increased again, with confirmed cases in September and October far exceeding the peak appearing in April. The UK is now experiencing a second wave.


Data from the Office for National Statistics of the UK: the V Curve of the UK Outbreak

The sharp rise in cases in September and October was partly due to an increase in the number of tests. In March and April, there were relatively fewer tests available to the general public. Those tests were mainly for people with severe symptoms in hospitals. Most of the patients with mild symptoms were not tested. But in the second wave in September, most patients with mild symptoms took tests in their community and were recorded officially. UK experts say the actual number of infected cases still remains higher than the number of cases recorded, but tested cases will account for a larger proportion of the total.

2. Changes in Epidemic Control Policies of the UK over Time

When the outbreak began to show signs around the world, the UK planned to resort to the strategy of “herd   immunity” to ensure an enough number of immunized people to suppress the virus instead of shutting down large gatherings or adopt strict social distancing measures. Great controversies were caused. There emerged plenty of worries that the UK government's strategy would raise havoc on its NHS and worsen the epidemic.


The mass immunization strategy, which ignores control, makes the number of new cases soar and hence the medical system faces great pressure.

On March 11th, 2020, after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the new outbreak was a global pandemic, the UK government denied “herd immunity” as an official policy, and took restrictive measures to curb the pandemic. On March 16th, the UK government advised companies to let competent employees work from home. The next day, the UK Prime Minister announced that the government would no longer support mass gatherings. This showed that the government's focus shifted from prevention to containment. On March 21st, the UK government officially advised that companies and other places across the UK, including cinemas, theaters, nightclubs, concert halls, museums and other leisure centers, should stop operating as soon as possible. Restaurants, bars and cafes were required to only offer takeout or delivery services. Offices and factories with less interpersonal contact can operate in strict accordance within proposed social distance, or allow workers to work remotely if possible. On March 23rd, the UK government announced tight restrictions, requiring all residents to stay from home, except for buying food or medicine, once-a-day exercise or helping the vulnerable groups. Other wide restriction measures include the demand to shut down all schools and switch to online courses.


During UK's first round of national shutdown, schools were required to be closed and students took classes remotely at home.

Reported cases in UK saw a significant decline after the adoption of vigorous prevention and control measures. As a result, the British government had been encouraging people to get out and spend over summer months, conveying a strong signal of economic revitalization. In July, the government promoted the "Staycation" policy to encourage domestic tourism in order to stimulate tourism and hospitality industry. Later in August, it pushed hard to "Get Britain back to the Office" while local authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were still recommending working from home where possible. Within the same month, about 500 million pounds had been invested into the "Eating Out" project where bars and restaurants offer half-price meals costing less than 10 pounds on Mondays and Wednesdays. Starting from June, schools in Britain are gradually reopening and encouraging students to return. Students in grades 10 and 12 in England are allowed to return to school on June 15 for coming exams, followed by Wales which announced reopening date as June 29th along with strict restrictions.


Campaign to encourage workers back to offices after the first wave of coronavirus

However, the break from the first wave of coronavirus did not last long. In late August, the number of cases across the country rose again. In response, the British government launched another prevention and control policy to curb the spread of the virus. On October 6, the government launched the “COVID alert levels system” with 3 tiers, identifying regional restrictions of "Medium alert", "High alert" and "Very high alert". These tires set limit on the scale of gathering in public places and controlled activities in high-risk areas. For instance, less-secured pubs and bars were required to be closed completely or earlier. Northern Ireland imposed a lockdown in mid-October, closing hotels and schools and asking citizens to avoid unnecessary travels. Meanwhile in Wales, targeted tiered regional restrictions were put in place. People were asked to stay at home while non-essential businesses had been closed from Oct. 23 to Nov. 9.


Britain amid a surge in coronavirus after the first national lockdown

On Oct. 31, after France, Germany and other European countries announced the closure of their countries, the British Prime Minister announced a second national lockdown, starting from Nov.5 to Dec. 2, to prevent the overloaded medical system from another attack. Restaurants, pubs, gyms and non-essential shops in UK were ordered to close again. Different from measures in spring, schools, colleges and universities remained open. Despite the increasing cases across the whole country, the average number of new cases per day in Scotland remained steady, which the local government gave the credit to its strict vigilance measures. In the meantime, Northern Ireland's devolved government had again extended its "circuit breaker" lockdown, which had been implemented since Oct.16, for another week.


Britain amid the second national lockdown

On Nov. 23, the British government set out COVID-19 Winter Plan, detailing the government's arrangement of measures after the national lockdown being lifted on December 2 and during the Christmas holidays. According to the document, vaccines are emphasized as the key means of prevention. And the government are committed to secure access to more than 350 million doses for people across the country. A UK-wide vaccination programme is expected to begin in December. At the same time, bars, pubs, restaurants and entertainment are getting lifted from restrictions and outdoor activities, gatherings, and travelling are loosening in accordance with the COVID alert level system. Apart from that, the government has pledged to work to protect the gains made during the second round of the national lockdown while fulfilling the national Christmas wishes for family reunion.

3. The impact of the epidemic on Britain's politics, economy and society

3.1 PoliticsSurging risks for a no-deal Brexit

The outbreak has disrupted the Brexit agenda which is already faltering, adding to the uncertainty of the current deadline in December 2020. Although the British government says it wants to step up the pace of negotiations next month, the pandemic has scrambled the governments economic and political calculations. As a result, a no-deal outcome, which once seemed all but impossible, now seems entirely plausible.         

According to the British Prime Minister, however, the government will not ask for another extension of negotiation as Covid-19, in the eyes of the government, has further reduced the value of a deal. The main reason lies in the fundamentally different economy before and after the crisis. Given the strongly infectious virus, Britain and other countries are more likely to bring manufacturing back to home to reduce their dependence on the global supply chain, which would significantly decline the necessity of a deal with European Union. Whats more, staying in Europes trading regime for longer actually means paying it billions of pounds more, acting as a politically poisonous outcome for Britain.

Faced with the surging risk of a no-deal Brexit, Britain is positively moving towards direct negotiations with other countries on post-Brexit trade issues. Recently, Britain and Canada have struck a new trade deal to protect the post-Brexit flow of $27 billion-worth goods and services between them. The British government stated its commitment to shape a global Britain with new trade strategies after Brexit and pointed out that the coronavirus had actually facilitated the process.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau have reached an agreement on post-Brexit trade deals.

3.2   Economics: Insufficient fiscal policy, the second round of blockade hits the economic recovery

Before Britain announced the first round of national blockade, a large number of companies were facing the crisis of bankruptcy. In order to avoid large-scale unemployment, the British government has launched an unprecedented 160 billion pounds of financial subsidy program, which pays 80% of the wages of employees who are unable to work because of the epidemic, and their wages can reach up to 2,500 pounds before taxes. However, the Institute of Finance (IFS) stated that many companies were already heavily in debt before accepting government subsidies. Although the government's financial subsidies have allowed a large number of companies to avoid the crisis of bankruptcy, since the extensive resumption of work and production in July, the government began to gradually reduce subsidies to enterprises and employees, and some zombie companies were once again hovering on the edge of bankruptcy.


The UK's fiscal policy cannot alleviate the huge impact of the epidemic on SMEs

The data shows that the peak of the first round of the epidemic has caused a severe blow to the British economy. During the countrys first lockdown from February to April, Britains GDP plummeted by 25%, causing a loss of 15 to 20 billion pounds in output. After the subsidy was abolished, enterprises faced a more severe problem of weak recovery. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) said that the unemployment rate in the three months ending in September rose from 4.5% to 4.8%, and the number of layoffs rose to 314,000 during the same period, a record high. The continued weakness of the labor market has led to a decrease in the overall number of employed persons, and the unemployment rate remains high.


The cliff-like impact of the first round of national blockade on UK GDP; data source: UK National Bureau of Statistics

The second wave of the epidemic will inevitably affect Britain, which has begun to gradually resume production. The UK economy has recovered about two-thirds of its losses from April to August. However, data shows that momentum has slowed in recent weeks, which is likely to lead to another quarter of shrinking growth. The Ministry of Finance's support measures for enterprises and employees who have lost their jobs due to the epidemic have begun to appear increasingly inadequate. Compared with the 80% coverage rate of one round of subsidy policy, the subsidy from the Ministry of Finance this time only covers two-thirds of workers' wages. In addition, for many industries in the tertiary industry, especially the hotel industry and leisure industry, blockade measures at this point in time will cause retailers in physical stores to miss the shopping season before Christmas, resulting in immeasurable losses.


The second round of national lockdown will cause huge losses to the traditional Christmas shopping season

Experts generally predict that this new round of national blockade will have a smaller impact on the British economy than in April. First, the second round of lockdown did not close schools that accounted for 5% of British GDP, which would ease a large part of the economic loss. Secondly, the most stringent epidemic prevention measures this time will be shortened from the original two months to one month, allowing some companies that have implemented quarantine agreements since the first round of lockdown to continue to operate. Most importantly, the impact of the first wave has triggered negative impacts to most of the industries that rely on contact. These industries have gradually adapted to the operating mode under lockdown conditions and explored certain experience on the prevention and control of the epidemic. These comprehensive factors will make it easier for companies to adapt to the various impacts of the new round of national lockdown.

1.3 Society: the gap between the rich and poor had further widened

COVID-19 not only highlights the inequalities that already exist in British society, but also makes these inequalities more entrenched. Research shows that half of the poor who were in debt crisis before the nationwide blockade said their current situation has become worse. In contrast, before the epidemic, only 20% of people who were financially wealthy felt that their situation had become worse, and 27% even said that their current situation had become better; from a regional perspective Look, the number of new crown deaths in the poorest areas is 118% higher than in the richest areas.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the disadvantages of socially disadvantaged groups from different aspects: these people lack the support of the Internet, mobile phones, telephones and other information systems, and the loss of social contact caused by the blockade policy and social isolation makes them more marginalized in isolation. Although the government has adopted welfare measures to help low-income employees affected by the epidemic, 75% of low-income people said that the existing universal credit and welfare system cannot support them to pay for basic living expenses. Many low-income people do not have the conditions to work from home and have to go out to work to survive the risk of contracting the new crown.

As the resources of the medical system are tilted towards the prevention and control of the epidemic, some medical services considered unnecessary, such as some psychological counseling on psychological counseling and anxiety management, will benefit the physical and mental health of low-income people who are more likely to fall into anxiety Have a long-term impact.

In the past decade, the life expectancy gap between high-income and low-income families has widened, and the impact of the COVID-19 on the gap between rich and poor may be even more serious.


The data shows that 55 people per 100,000 people in poor areas of the United Kingdom die of new coronary pneumonia, and 25 people per 100,000 people in non-poverty areas die of COVID-19; data source: UK National Bureau of Statistics.

2. Summary

At present, after experiencing the second peak of the epidemic in October and the second blockade in November, the epidemic situation in the United Kingdom has gradually improved, and the infection curve has begun to fall. Among them, the infection rate in England and Scotland has stabilized, and the infection rate in Wales and North Ireland has declined.

Like many countries facing the impact of the second wave of the epidemic, the impact of the epidemic on the UK’s politics, economics, and society will be far-reaching: the epidemic will sharply increase the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, and the second round of national blockade will slow down the pace of the British economic recovery, the impact of the widening gap between the rich and the poor will gradually become prominent in the future.

Looking back on the performance of different countries in fighting the epidemic this year, we can make a preliminary conclusion: in order to minimize the negative impact of the epidemic on the country’s economy and people’s livelihood, we must first adopt strict epidemic prevention measures such as blockade, isolation, and wearing masks. Control the spread of the virus, and then gradually resume normal economic activities. At the beginning of the outbreak, the British government was slow to respond to the virus. The "herd immunity" strategy not only had little effect but also led to an increase in the epidemic. After that, strict prevention and control measures such as blockade and isolation were required to turn the tide. Even so, Britain still cannot escape the impact of the second wave of epidemics, and the upcoming Christmas season will bring more challenges to government governance. If the UK wants to successfully contain the second wave of the outbreak, it still needs strict epidemic prevention measures to control the increase in cases so as to reduce the burden on the National Health Care System (NHS) and create better social conditions for subsequent economic recovery.


1.The Guardian | 疫情数据图表 | UK coronavirus map: Tracking the outbreak

2.World Health Organization | 英国疫情实时追踪 | Covid-19 Response

3.The New York Times | 英国确证病例地图 | United Kingdom Covid Map and Case Count

4.Oxford University 10-26 | 英格兰、苏格兰、威尔士北爱尔兰四地政府对疫情的不同回应 | Variation in the response to COVID-19 across the four nations of the United Kingdom

5.BBC News 中文03-16 | 群体免疫争议 | 肺炎疫情:英国出台避险政策 群体免疫与当局的科学逻辑.

6.UK Government 11-23 | 英国政府报告 | 新冠冬季防疫计划

7.New York Times 06-05 | 政治影响 | How the Coronavirus Makes a No-Deal Brexit More Likely

8.World First 05-11 | 政治影响 | A political pandemic: The difficult relationship between Brexit and COVID-19

9.Reuters 11-21 | 政治影响 | Britain and Canada agree post-Brexit rollover trade deal

10.Financial Times | 经济影响 | Lockdown delivers blow to hopes of UK recovery

11.BBC News 11-10 | 经济影响 | UK unemployment rate continues to surge

12.BBC News 10-14 | 经济影响 | How much economic damage would a circuit-breaker lockdown do?

13.BBC News 中文 07-23 | 经济影响 | 英国第二波疫情阴影下经济重启面临重大挑战

14.Voluntary Health Scotland 05-07 | 社会影响 | COVID-19: A pandemic in the age of inequality