Why are coronavirus deaths in the UK so low despite the number of cases rising?

Though case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are way down. (Photo: Shutterstock)Though case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are way down. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Though case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are way down. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Coronavirus cases are soaring in the UK, yet data shows that hospitalisations and deaths from the virus remain low. 

On Sunday, September 6, almost 3,000 people in the UK  tested positive for coronavirus, representing a 50% increase in a single day, and the highest daily case total since May. 

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With schools and universities returning this month, many fear that the pandemic is once against spiralling out of control - yet while case numbers are high, fatalities and hospitalisations remain low. 

The latest government data shows that there were two coronavirus-related deaths in England on September 5, a huge reduction when compared to peaks of close to 1,000 deaths per day in April. 

September 6 saw 208 new cases in Scotland - the biggest daily jump for four months - but no new deaths. 

Currently, researchers aren’t sure why exactly hospitalisations and deaths remain relatively low - but they have a few working theories. 

Younger people catching coronavirus 

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Analysis of data from Public Health England by The Times shows that around two-thirds of confirmed cases in the last week of August were among the under-40s, while the rate of infection among older people has fallen.

Young people are much less likely to suffer a severe infection requiring hospitalisation, and are much less likely to die from coronavirus.

Some experts believe that the age of those getting infected is thus keeping hospitalisation and death numbers down. 

Better treatment 

Since the start of the pandemic, medical professionals have thankfully learned more about how to successfully treat coronavirus in very ill patients. 

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Recently, researchers at Oxford published an analysis showing that people who had coronavirus in June were four times less likely to die in hospital than those who were ill with it in April.

As well as using steroids dexamethasone and hydrocortisone to improve chances of recovery, doctors have switched to non-invasive devices to aid breathing.

Hospitals have also improved infection control, avoiding cross-contamination, and hospitals are quieter than they were at the peak of the pandemic.


According to PHE data just 374 people over 70 tested positive for coronavirus during the last week of August, compared to 10,770 during the first week of April. 

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This indicates that people over 70 - the most vulnerable age category - are still taking precautions such as shielding to avoid contracting the virus.

More testing 

During March and April, testing was only available to staff and patients in hospitals. 

Currently, however, nearly 90% of new cases are being identified through walk-in and drive-through testing sites, possibly identifying cases that might have slipped under the radar before.

Social distancing 

Some experts theorise that social distancing can mean a lower viral load - the amount of the virus present in someone’s body.

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Some research has shown that mask-wearing and social distancing can reduce the amount of the virus that someone is exposed to, potentially leading to a less serious illness.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, The Edinburgh Evening News.