Covid: Why are UK cases so high?

Thanks to the vaccine, a case of Covid is much less likely to land you in hospital. But soaring infections - which are outstripping some European nations - are still proving a cause for concern.

The more virus there is about, the more chances there are for it to break through the defences of vaccines, reach vulnerable people and put pressure on health services.

What do the figures show?

The number of people testing positive for Covid in the UK has been rising in recent days to more than 40,000 daily cases.

Over the past three months, there have been roughly as many cases as there were over three months last winter.


Covid chart


Because there were roughly the same number of cases, we can compare these two different three-month time periods to see what happened to hospital admissions.

Between July and October this year, there were just over three million cases, with 79,000 people ending up in hospital.

Between October and January last year, there were just over 2.7 million cases but more than 185,000 people needed hospital treatment. This was before vaccines were widely available.


Hospital chart



These two charts show us the effect of the removal of restrictions and the rise of the Delta variant on the one hand in driving up cases, and the vaccination programme on the other in pushing down admissions.

So what do we know about what's driving the rise in cases?

Less mask-wearing?

UK residents were significantly more likely than people in Germany, France, Spain and Italy to say they no longer wear a face mask or covering.

Covid cases are higher in the UK than in any of those countries - but we can't necessarily say that one is causing the other.

Study after study has shown face masks can help stop the virus from being passed between people. When it comes to measuring how much mask wearing reduces an outbreak, though, it's a lot more difficult to pin down.

That's because it's hard to untangle it from all the other things going on at the same time, like how much people choose to mix with each other.

People in Sweden and the Netherlands were more likely than the UK to say they never wore a mask, according to a survey by Imperial College London. But these countries have fewer confirmed Covid cases than the UK.

Within the UK, Scottish guidelines still recommend masks in most indoors places, while English ones don't. And people in Scotland - asked by the Office for National Statistics - were more likely to say they had worn a face covering in the previous seven days. Yet the nation also saw a spike in hospital admissions in recent weeks.