The first coronavirus cases in the UK were reported in January 2020. By the end of March 2020, 4,426 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive with Covid-19.

On 16 March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the Government would be implementing measures intended to halt the spread of the virus. The first lockdown began in England on 23 March 2020. Similar measures were implemented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at the same time. The lockdown saw the closure of non-essential high street businesses, schools, indoor sports venues and other activities. People were advised to work from home where possible and to avoid public transport. The NHS also advised anyone aged 70 and over to stay at home as much as possible and to practise social distancing.

The Government announced a series of schemes intended to support people during the lockdown. This included a financial support package for businesses affected and a furlough scheme intended to help companies retain staff.

Impact of the first lockdown

The first lockdown led to a decrease in transmissions of the virus. Researchers at Imperial College have estimated that 470,000 lives were saved as a result of the first lockdown. At the same time, however, the restrictions also had a negative effect on public health more generally, on the economy, and on children and young people’s education. This resulted in a public debate about the impact of the lockdown itself.

The first lockdown began to be eased in May 2020. However, restrictions have tightened again since the latter part of 2020, eventually resulting in the current lockdown restrictions imposed in December 2020 and January 2021.

This article summarises data on the impact of both the pandemic and the lockdown during the first part of 2020.

Mental health

A study published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that mental health worsened by 8.1% on average in April 2020, the first month of the national lockdown. A University of Glasgow study, published in October 2020, found that there had been an increase in levels of anxiety and suicidal thoughts during the same period.

Concerns were also raised about the impact on people aged over 70. A telephone survey, published in the journal Age and Ageing, found this group was particularly vulnerable to social isolation during the lockdown.

Other health outcomes

There is evidence that public health has been negatively affected during the pandemic, due to conditions either not being identified or not being treated. For example, in September 2020, Public Health England reported that half of those with worsening health conditions had not sought health advice. It said that the most common reason given was people not wanting to put pressure on the NHS. Public Health England also reported:

Economic impact

The UK economy shrank by a fifth during the period April to June 2020. The UK economy did then begin to recover after this sharp decline; UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 16% during the period from July to September 2020. However, GDP remained 8.6% lower compared with the same three-month period in the previous year.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has argued the UK economy faces a long road to recovery. It said that, by the end of 2024, it expected GDP will still be only 1.9% above the level recorded in the 4th quarter of 2019.

The unemployment rate and the level of redundancies have both increased during the first half of 2020. The rate of employees who had been made redundant or took voluntary redundancy doubled between April to June 2020 and July to September 2020. The take up of the Government’s furlough scheme peaked in May 2020, covering a total of 8.9 million jobs. However, the Resolution Foundation has warned that lower-paid people, young people, and women would disproportionately experience the negative economic effects of the pandemic.

The first half of 2020 saw different levels of damage across sectors of the UK economy. For example, while temporary closures were damaging for many high street retailers, the period also saw an increase in sales for online retailers. The arts and entertainment sector has faced a decline in revenues with the closure of venues. The charitable and voluntary sector has also faced losses in revenue as a result of the pandemic, while facing increased levels of demand for their services.

Education and young people

The first lockdown resulted in the majority of children and young people being educated at home.

The children and young people’s mental health charity Young Minds published the results of a survey carried out in September 2020, which showed the pandemic had put a huge strain on many young people already struggling with their mental health. While returning to schools after the end of the first lockdown had had a positive effect for most children, the survey reported that they also felt increased pressure to fill gaps in their education.

The lockdown has also been found to have exacerbated existing education attainment gaps, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to suffer damage to their education.

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Cover image by Chloe Evans on Unsplash.