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The BIG Breakfast Show

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The figures behind the new COVID strain that led to a cancelled Christmas

Written by on 20 December 2020

Millions of Britons have suddenly been forced to shelve festive plans – but how did we get here?

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the nation less than a week before Christmas Day, to break the difficult news that even tighter restrictions were on the way for London and much of the South East, the statistics showed he had little choice.

What are the rules in England’s different tiers – including the new Tier 4?

A new and apparently more infectious variant of the coronavirus, known as VUI 2020/01, which was thought to have originated in either London or Kent in September, is behind the move.

By November, it was accounting for 28% of new infections in the region. By early December, that had risen to 60%.

ONS data showing the proportion of how much the new COVID variant increasing. December 19 2020
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The new COVID variant has increased rapidly

There have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of the new strain, mostly in southern England. But exact locations have not been revealed.

One of the other factors which pushed the government and its advisers into the Christmas U-turn were the R (reproduction) rate statistics.

R number rises COBR graph December 19
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Controlling the reproduction rate of the disease is crucial to preventing the NHS being overwhelmed

Since the beginning of December, the R rate has risen from just below 1 – meaning infection rates are largely under control – to upwards of 1.2, meaning an infected person on average will pass the disease on to 12 others.

On top of that, the proportion of the new variant of coronavirus is increasing.

Mr Johnson also revealed the new strain was 70% more transmissible, which has been identified as a possible reason why November’s lockdown and subsequent Tier 3 measures failed to get the virus under control in Kent.

ONS data showing the proportion of how much the new COVID variant increasing. December 19 2020
Image:
The new COVID variant has increased rapidly

One of the most startling graphs at Saturday’s news briefing was one showing that case rates in the areas moving into Tier 4 are higher than in England as a whole – and are still rising.

COVID case rates in Tier 4 areas. COBR graph

The data presented on Saturday is against a backdrop of UK case rates over the past two weeks increasing by more than 50%.

Covid case rate rises over past two weeks COBR graph
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Over the past two weeks overall UK case-rates have jumped by more than 50%

The UK now has the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus fatalities in Europe.

Saturday’s figures showed 534 more deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test – bringing the nationwide total to 67,075.