The UK now has one of the lowest COVID infection rates in Europe

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after visiting the Lakeland Forum Covid-19 vaccination centre on March 12, 2021 in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHARLES MCQUILLAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson pictured on Friday. The UK's lockdowns, as well as the successful vaccine rollout, have seen new COVID infections plummet. (Charles McQuillan/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK now has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe, the latest data suggest.

Figures from Oxford University’s respected Our World in Data website show that on Wednesday, the UK had the fifth-lowest rate of new infections – 89 per one million people – out of all 44 countries on the continent.

It compares to the 1,436 cases per one million seen in the Czech Republic, one of the central European countries which have suffered spikes in cases in recent weeks.

Europe’s average, meanwhile, is 259 per one million (lists with the continent’s five highest and five lowest infection rates are at the bottom of this page).

The darker shades on this Our World in Data map indicate the European countries with the higher COVID rates per one million people. (Our World in Data)
The darker shades on this Our World in Data map indicate the European countries with the higher COVID rates per one million people. (Our World in Data)

It’s a marked change in fortunes for the UK, having been one of the worst-hit countries in the world with 125,343 total deaths as of Friday: the fifth-highest death toll in the world.

The UK was particularly hit over the winter, when the new, more transmissible variant of the virus – first discovered in Kent – rapidly spread across the country.

Boris Johnson, who over the autumn and winter faced strong criticism for his response to the second wave of the pandemic, eventually imposed a third national lockdown on England on 4 January.

Watch: Friday's UK coronavirus in numbers

That strict lockdown, as well as the UK’s successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, has seen infections plummet. The first easing of restrictions happened on Monday, with schools returning and people allowed to socialise with one other person outdoors.

However, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty was on hand earlier this week to deliver a trademark dose of realism.

Appearing at a House of Commons committee, Prof Whitty told MPs to expect a further surge of infections later this year, with this causing “significant numbers” of deaths.

Europe's third wave

Where the UK is aiming to have lifted all restrictions by 21 June, many European countries are now facing a third wave due, in part, to the spread of the Kent variant.

Germany, one of the countries which has struggled with a slow vaccine rollout, posted its biggest daily increase in cases – 14,356 – in five weeks on Thursday.

Lothar Wieler, president of Germany’s health ministry, the Robert Koch Institute, said earlier this week: “I see the beginning of the third wave.

Read more:

The picture from a year ago that tells the story of the UK’s disastrous COVID response

Next COVID surge will cause significant number of deaths this year, warns Chris Whitty

“We have to vaccinate as soon as possible, as much as possible, strategically.” Germany had a case rate of 253 per one million on Wednesday, the 28th highest in Europe.

Italy, meanwhile, is imposing further restrictions following growing numbers of cases. The country was the first in the world to impose a national lockdown a year ago. Its infection rate per one million on Wednesday was 368, the 20th highest in Europe.

The countries in Europe with the highest infection rates on Wednesday

  1. Czechia: 1,436 per one million

  2. San Marino: 1,355

  3. Malta: 1,155

  4. Estonia: 1,117

  5. Montenegro: 1,041

The countries in Europe with the lowest infection rates on Wednesday

  1. Iceland: 6 per one million

  2. Russia: 62

  3. Portugal: 63

  4. Belarus: 64

  5. UK: 89

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown