Coronavirus killed more people in a single year than any other infectious disease of the past century, statisticians have found.
The killer virus took more lives in England and Wales in 12 months than any other infectious or parasitic disease since the Spanish Flu’s 1918 peak.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) made the tragic finding in its first look at 2020 data a year on from the beginning of the first UK lockdown.
As of Monday the UK’s Covid-19 official death toll stands at 125,516 and remains among the highest in the world, according to government data.
The ONS estimates the figure is far higher – counting at least 140,000 by including deaths where Covid was mentioned as the underlying cause or a contributory cause on their death certificates.
In England and Wales, around 73,500 people died with Covid registered as the underlying cause of death during 2020, the ONS said.
In the year of the pandemic, almost 4,400 further deaths from infectious and parasitic diseases were registered, the national statistics agency added.
This means the virus was the underlying cause of more deaths in 2020 than any other infectious and parasitic diseases had caused in any year since 1918, statistics found.
In that year there were just over 89,900 deaths from various infectious and parasitic diseases registered in England and Wales.
During that year the Spanish Flu was wreaking havoc around the world on populations already struggling in the aftermath of devastating World War I.
While official estimates vary, the Spanish Flu was believed to have killed at least 228,000 people in the UK between 1918 and 1919.
That made 1918 the first year on British record in which the number of deaths exceeded births.
More recently, there were nearly 8,200 deaths from infectious and parasitic diseases in England and Wales in 2007. This coincided with a peak in deaths in England involving Clostridium difficile.
Also known as C. difficile, the bacteria affects the bowel causing diarrhoea and can be deadly.
The ONS figures also showed the winter pressures on the NHS were far worse than recent years.
A key goal of the UK’s strict lockdowns were to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed by Covid cases – particularly during colder seasons when other illnesses typically pressure hospitals.
The ONS described the winter of 2020 and early 2021 as ‘far from normal’ and actually worsened this year during England’s third national lockdown.
Data from NHS England’s winter ‘situation reports’ showed that acute hospital trusts opened significantly more critical care beds, and that many more were occupied than in recent previous years, as hospitals reported greater pressure from the virus.
In the last week of January 2021, more than 5,000 adult critical care beds a day were occupied in England’s hospitals, compared with around 3,000 a day in the same week in 2020.
While the number of adults in critical care decreased last month, the numbers still remained higher than any February over the previous decade, the ONS said.
The ONS analysis of the year since lockdown began also looked at crime, jobs and real estate figures.
Despite crime falling overall in lockdown across England and Wales, there was a stark increase in stalking and harassment which rose even further as restrictions lifted in summer..
The number of offences recorded rose by 31% year-on-year between July and September 2020, the ONS said.
Statisticians also found in many industries the hit to jobs was worse than the financial crash downturn – with the arts, accommodation and hospitality and retail sectors worst-hit.
At one point of the the first lockdown the number of job vacancies plunged lower than the depths plumbed during the 2008 and 2009 global financial crisis.
Vacancies fell 38%, from 701,000 in January to March 2008 to a low of 432,000 in April to June 2009 before rising again.
By comparison, quarterly vacancies stood at 802,000 across the UK in October to December 2019 and fell by 57% to a low of 343,000 in April to June 2020, during the first lockdown.
By October to December 2020, the number of vacancies had risen to 590,000, down 26% on the same three months of 2019.
In the hospitality sector, which had been affected by lockdowns and social distancing, there were 29,000 vacancies in these three months, down 66% on the same period the previous year.
And on average UK workers worked seven fewer hours per person a week as jobs were slashed and roles furloughed during 2020’s rolling shutdowns.
Despite most other sectors taking a thrashing, house prices bucked the trend by increasing while the economy shrank.
Real estate sales figures shot up during the pandemic, a stark departure from the 2008/9 financial crisis recession which was triggered by banking crises fuelled by risky real estate financing.
The average UK house price reached a record high of £252,000 in December 2020 — an increase of 8.5% over the year, the ONS said.
The surge in house buying at the end of 2020 may reflect the pent-up demand from people who had been unable to buy during the lockdown — and changes to the types of property people wanted such as houses with gardens, the agency added.