Chart of the week: The UK's troubling record on deaths from Covid-19 compared internationally

Each week, we'll be taking a look at a different aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic, presenting our analysis of the data in chart form to illustrate some key issues and invite discussion. This week, John Appleby compares deaths from Covid-19 in the UK with those of other countries.

Chart of the week

Published: 03/06/2020

As the UK begins the process of relaxing lockdown measures, it’s worth considering its unenviable record on Covid-19.

To date, the UK has recorded the second highest number of confirmed deaths from Covid-19 in the world. This is equivalent to around one-tenth of the 380,810 deaths from Covid-19 globally, over eight times more than China and over a fifth of all deaths across the 54 countries of the European region.

This picture changes little if we take account of differences in population. While the US shifts from first in the world for total deaths to ninth when comparing deaths per million people, the UK is third highest (592), after Belgium (833) and Spain (598), and just higher than Italy (555) and Sweden (439).

Looking at confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 277,985 cases reported so far, the UK ranks fourth in the world after the US (1.83 million), Brazil (555,383) and Russia (423,741).

There are well-discussed problems with comparing countries – differences and lags in recording Covid-19 deaths and the vagaries of different testing regimes, for example – and a few countries (such as Brazil) are still on a sharp upward trajectory. However, this is unlikely to substantially change the eventual relative outcome for the UK.

The reasons why the UK has done so badly in combating the pandemic compared to most other countries will be manifold, but any future analysis of the UK’s response to Covid-19 would do well to focus on a key lesson in dealing with pandemics: the speed at which the right decisions were taken before and during the early evolution of the disease.