How does Britain’s Covid situation compare internationally?

Photo credit: Reuters

For the third time in 10 months, the United Kingdom is locked down. At the moment, the picture in Britain is bleak: more people are testing positive for Covid than ever before, GDP has fallen 8.9% since February 2020, and the UK has seen nearly 90,000 deaths, the fifth highest total in the world behind only the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico. With vaccination appearing to be the only way out of this crisis, it begs the question how other countries are dealing with coronavirus and whether life is quite so slow in all corners of the world.

Just like in Britain, most Western European countries are enduring stringent social distancing rules and stay-at-home orders. For example, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland and most of Italy are currently under lockdown measures similar to those in the UK. However, unlike the UK, states like Italy and Portugal have chosen to keep schools and universities open during lockdown. Although France and Spain are currently eschewing strict lockdown measures, they still have national curfews in place.

Outside of Europe, the outlook tends to be rosier. In recent months, images of music festivals in Gisborne, New Zealand and Wuhan, China have gone viral online, becoming the envy of Europeans stuck at home. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, made headlines in June last year after declaring her country virus-free, and Kiwis have since enjoyed Covid restrictions far less strict than in the rest of the world.

A health care worker reacts after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Hospital Favoriten in Vienna, Austria, December 27. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner    
Image Credit: Reuters

Despite being the first country impacted by the Coronavirus, China’s strict mask mandates and stay-at-home orders paired with high levels of public compliance also allowed a return to business as usual far quicker than the rest of the world. As a testament to China’s stringent lockdown procedure, its government recently placed the 11 million citizens of Shijiazhuang back into lockdown after only 100 cases were detected, closing down schools and businesses and even stopping residents from leaving the city. As a result, China’s economy returned to relative normality by the end of 2020, being the only major one to actually grow, albeit at a slower pace than in previous years.

Additionally, aside from the new strain of Coronavirus discovered in Kent late last year, South Africa and Brazil have also been dealing with their own variants. There is no evidence linking any of the new strains to worse symptoms or a higher death toll, though they do appear to spread more easily. Whilst South Africa introduced harsher measures to curb the spread of the new variant, at time of writing, Brazil (whose new strain was detected more recently) has not. Just as over 40 countries banned travel to and from the United Kingdom in response to its variant, the British government was not alone in imposing travel bans on South Africa, Portugal and most of South America in the hopes of preventing the arrival of new strains that could worsen an already difficult situation.

Nevertheless, the consensus across Europe is such that a vaccine is perhaps the only way out of a perpetual cycle of lockdowns. In England, progress on vaccinating the public is swift – NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens recently stated that people are being immunised four times faster than new cases of Coronavirus are being reported. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also affirmed that Britain is still on track to vaccinate everyone in its most vulnerable category by mid-February, and may even be able to offer a first jab to every adult before the previous Autumn deadline.

An elderly woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a nursing home in Burgbernheim, Germany, December 28. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Pictured: a German woman receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Photo credit: Reuters

However, progress is not quite so quick across Europe. The European Union led a joint vaccine procurement process, a programme that has been criticised by many of its members for being too slow. Additionally, EU countries have received far fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine than expected after its manufacturing facility experienced delays whilst it attempted to boost capacity, further delaying Europe’s vaccine rollout. As a result, the UK has so far had a more successful immunisation programme than the EU. Trumping all progress made in the West; Israel is currently the world leader in Covid immunisation, with over 20% of its population already receiving a jab.
Another significant issue facing mainly developed countries is vaccine scepticism. A survey published recently by the Wellcome Trust reports that Europe has the world’s lowest average levels of trust in vaccination, as around 10 to 22% of Europeans disagree that vaccines are safe, with France being the least willing to embrace them. Vaccine scepticism is an even greater issue in Eastern Europe – a report by the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group suggested that as many as 80% of citizens in some -EU candidate- Balkan countries believe related conspiracy theories. In the UK, surveys have indicated that as many as two thirds of adults would definitely receive the vaccine, although the World Health Organisation estimates that a take-up of at least 65 to 70% would be required to achieve ‘herd immunity.’

Header image shows a pool party in Wuhan. credit: Getty images