COVID-19: The figures behind the virus mutation that led to a cancelled Christmas

·2-min read

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.

A new and apparently more infectious variant of the coronavirus, known as VUI-202012/01, 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%.

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.

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.

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.

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