The UK is currently in the grip of a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, largely driven by the Omicron variant that was first detected in the UK at the end of November. But although reported cases have reached record highs during this latest wave – so far peaking at 218,724 new daily infections on 4 January – deaths have not risen at the same pace.
Vaccines have dramatically reduced Covid-19 deaths in the UKCases versus deaths over days 1–60 of the UK’s second and most recent Covid wavesBased on a seven-day rolling average of daily recorded cases and deaths. Second wave is recorded from 8/9/20, latest wave is recorded from 12/11/21.
Source: data.gov.uk; ONS
On Wednesday 5 January (the latest date for which there is full data), 167 people died. At the same point during the second wave in November 2020, 359 people died despite far fewer infections. Earlier analysis by the New Statesman last July showed a similar discrepancy between case and death rates between the second and third waves, suggesting a strong effect of vaccines in reducing severe cases.
Vaccines are also likely preventing deaths during this current wave. Over four in five (83 per cent) of people aged over 12 have received two doses of the vaccine, while 62 per cent of people have received a third dose.
Although there has been speculation that Omicron causes less severe disease, with analysis by the UK Health Security Agency showing that Omicron is less likely to lead to hospitalisations than the Delta variant, the high numbers of people admitted for in-patient care this month shows that the pandemic is still straining the NHS.