Covid: UK passes one million coronavirus cases - so what have we learned?

Coronavirus infections in the UK are rising again, so what have we learned?
Coronavirus infections in the UK are rising again, so what have we learned? Credit: PA
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Charlie Bayliss

The UK has now recorded more than one million coronavirus cases, according to government data.

The grim milestone was passed after an additional 21,915 lab-confirmed cases were reported as of 9am on Saturday, bringing the UK's total to 1,011,660.

Just eight other countries have recorded more than one million cases of Covid-19, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The exact number of infections in the UK is thought to be far higher due to a lack of widespread testing during the start of the pandemic.

Here’s a look back at what we’ve learned since the first recorded infection in the UK on January 29.

How Covid affects us

In the early stages of the pandemic, experts identified a high temperature and a new, continuous cough as the two main symptoms of Covid-19.

Later, a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell were then added to the official list of symptoms by the NHS. As we have learned more about the disease, we are beginning to find out how it affects people differently.

Coughing into your elbow has become common practice in the age of coronavirus. Credit: PA

Recent reports and research suggest nearly 80% of people who test positive do not have virus symptoms and are asymptomatic.

This goes some way to helping us understand why coronavirus spreads so effectively from person to person. If someone is unaware they have the virus, they will not know they need to isolate and therefore could pass it on to other people

How the disease spreads

The transmission of coronavirus is mainly through respiratory droplets, which we release when we breathe, cough or sneeze.

Contact with contaminated surfaces is another way the disease spreads too.

For example, if a person infected with Covid-19 coughs in their hand, touches a surface, and then another person comes into contact with that surface and touches their face, breathing in the virus, they too can be infected.

These are thought to be the two main ways of contracting the disease, hence the government’s guidance to maintain a distance from others, wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.

A Victoria Line Tube train is deep cleaned

More recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged emerging evidence that Covid-19 could be airborne and spread by tiny particles suspended in the air.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has said airborne transmission can occur under special circumstances, like if someone is in an enclosed space with an infectious person for prolonged period of time where there is poor ventilation.

If there were no measures in place to slow the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, wearing a mask or working from home where possible, it is thought the R number of coronavirus is around three.

It means for every person infected with the virus, they pass it on to another three more people. This exponential growth can see the virus spread very quickly.

With the current measures in place in the UK, the R number is currently around 1.1-1.3. So on average, for every 10 people with the disease, they pass it on to 11 to 13 others.

Some countries have handled the crisis better than others

Differing countries have handled the pandemic better than others, both from a mortality and economic perspective.

Europe, in particular the UK, Spain and France, have been hit particularly hard by the virus.

Their deaths tolls are among the highest in the world and many have seen double digit drops in their GDP.

To make matters worse, many European nations are in the midst of a second wave of Covid.

  • Parisians leave the city as France prepares for a second national lockdown

Many countries are recording more cases than in the spring and summer, but this is largely due to increased testing capabilities.

The Americas has been the hardest hit region.

The US has the highest number of cases, with 8.7 million confirmed, and also has the most deaths with 226,000.

Brazil is the second worst hit country, with 158,000 deaths and 5.4 million cases.

The UK has the highest death toll in Europe with more than 45,000, followed by Italy with 37,000 deaths and France and Spain with 35,000.

By contrast, Germany has just 10,200 deaths.

The countries in Asia closest to the epicentre of the Wuhan outbreak have been among the best to cope with the pandemic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the partial lockdown will take effect on Monday and last until the end of November Credit: Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP

Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and South Korea have all coped remarkably well, both economically and from an infection perspective.

Whether through implementing tightened border control restrictions, mass testing, strict quarantine or highly effective tracing systems, these countries have limited the impact of the pandemic.

There are treatments for Covid-19, but no vaccine just yet

Hundreds of trials are ongoing to help find an effective vaccine and suitable drugs to help treat coronavirus patients.

People admitted to hospital in the UK with coronavirus now are more likely to survive than if they were taken in during the spring.

The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) found on average 39% of critical care coronavirus patients died up until the end of August, with just less than 12% dying since.

This is helped by better understanding of the disease, but also due to older drugs being used as part of new treatments.

Existing drugs such as dexamethasone, traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis, has been proven to help save lives.

A UK trial in June proved dexamethasone can save one life for every eight patients on ventilators in the UK. For people needing oxygen, the drug also helps cut the death rate by 20%.

There are other promising trials ongoing, such as with the anti-viral drug remdesivir, which was used against Ebola.

Regeneron, an experimental drug still in the early stages of testing, has shown positive signs and was even administered to US President Donald Trump during his bout with the disease.

Vials of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine Credit: Sean Elias/PA

Meanwhile hydroxychloriquine, which was touted by Mr Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as a possible treatment, has proven to be ineffective.

Despite the breakthroughs in treating the disease, we are still not quite there yet with the treatment many have pinned their hopes on - a vaccine.

Multiple trials are now in their last phase of testing and it is hoped we may get some doses before the end of the year, although we still do not know how effective they will be.

Long term effects of coronavirus

The long term health effects of coronavirus is one area where we are learning more as each month goes by.

As the disease has been around for less than a year, the complexities of it and its long term impact on those affected is still something experts are trying to grapple with.

The effects of Long Covid, as it has become known (although this is not a medical term), are far reaching - with a vast array of symptoms encompassing both physical and neurological - that drag into weeks and often months.

Sufferers are reporting a huge spectrum of problems, including severe fatigue, breathlessness, muscle aches, joint pain, 'brain fog,' memory loss, a lack of concentration, as well as depression and mental health problems.

Studies have been set up in the UK to help monitor the affects of coronavirus on these patients into the next year.