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27 October 2020updated 28 Aug 2021 9:50pm

How does the UK’s second wave of Covid-19 compare to those in Europe?

Hospitalisations are rising across the continent, with the highest number in Belgium and the UK. 

By Michael Goodier

Covid-19 cases are rising in the UK and the rest of Europe – with the worst outbreaks in Belgium and Czechia. The figures show cases, hospitalisations and deaths are rising across the board. Few countries have shown signs of a peak or decline any time soon, and testing systems are under strain not just in the UK, but across the continent.

A rise in cases

Czechia has recorded an average of 113 cases a day per 100,000 people in the last week, while Belgium has seen 94 per 100,000, according to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

When we break the figures down further, the top two regions with the highest number of new Covid-19 cases in the last fortnight (compared to population) are both in Belgium (Wallonne and Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest), while 12 of the top 20 are in Czechia.

Just one UK region (North West England, which includes both Liverpool and Greater Manchester) is in the top 20. Italy, France and Czechia are all seeing the steepest upward trajectories in cases, while there are early signs that Belgium may be beginning to slow the spread of the virus. Looking at raw cases, France is leading Europe by a large margin, with an average of 34,496 cases a day in the latest week. The UK is second with an average of 21,627. Both countries have experienced steep upward trajectories.


Testing is struggling to keep up

The best way to compare a country’s testing regime is the case-positivity rate, rather than the raw number of cases.

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This shows how adequately countries are testing compared to the size of the outbreak, with the World Health Organisation saying in May that a positive rate of less than 5 per cent indicates that an epidemic is under control.

[see also: How England’s Covid-19 test and trace system is collapsing]

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Currently, these rates are rising across Europe, with only Sweden, Germany and Russia seeing fewer than 5 per cent of tests returning positive.


The UK has one of the highest hospitalisation rates

When it comes to the number of people being hospitalised, the UK has one of the highest rates in Europe. Weekly figures from the ECDC show that ten in every 100,000 people were hospitalised in the week ending 17 October. Only Belgium, which saw more than 15 admissions per 100,000 people, was higher. It is worth noting that data isn’t available for some countries, including Italy, while there is a lag in countries such as France and Spain. 


A mortality tragedy in Belgium and Czechia

The most important metric is the death toll. Currently the UK is seeing the third highest number of daily deaths in Europe. An average of 179 people died each day in the week to 26 October, less than in France (183) and Russia (266).


Once adjusted for population size, the highest death rates are occurring in Czechia (with more than one death a day for every 100,000 people) and Belgium (0.45). While variations in cases and deaths are apparent across Europe – and Germany, once again, seems to be performing better than its neighbours – the most important picture is that Covid-19 has once again taken hold of the continent, and it isn’t just the UK struggling to regain control.

[see also: The New Statesman’s hyperlocal Covid-19 tracker]