Now that’s what I call….Stats of the Year 2020!

PHASTAR's Head of Statistical Research and Consultancy chaired the judging panel for the Royal Statistical Society Statistics of the Year. Here, she goes through the winners and the runners up, highlighting the statistics that sum up 2020. 

Ah 2020, it hasn’t exactly been a quiet year in the world of statistics. COVID-19 has made statisticians of us all and I don’t think I can remember a year where numbers have been more in the spotlight. We have been confronted daily with sobering statistics that have had major repercussions on all our day-to-day lives. COVID-19 unsurprisingly features heavily in this year’s Royal Statistical Society Statistics of the Year, but these figures really highlight the discrepancies between the world’s experience of the pandemic. Whilst for some people, COVID-19 has meant being stuck at home behind a laptop screen, there’s a big chunk of the global population who still don’t have access to soap and water. Let’s take a look at the numbers in more detail.


Winner – International Statistic of the Year

332 days

332 days is the length of time between scientists publishing the genetic sequence of COVID-19 (11 January 2020) and an effective vaccine being administered as part of a vaccine programme (8 December 2020). While many of this year’s Statistics of the Year are very harrowing, this international winner really is something to celebrate. “When will we get a vaccine?” has been a big topic of conversation this year, and the whole world was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief and felt some hope for 2021 when Margaret Kennen received that first vaccine on 8th December. The speed in which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was developed and approved – with others close behind – is a massive achievement for the global scientific community and I think that many of us didn’t expect such a breakthrough in 2020.


Winner – UK Statistic of the Year


The number of excess deaths in care homes in England and Wales, as reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), over the four-week period 4th April – 1st May was 17,750. Total deaths in care homes were 200% higher than the five-year average, compared with 85% higher in the home, and 65% higher in hospitals. This troubling statistic highlights the importance of data quality and data transparency, because while the news was full of footage from overcrowded hospitals in Italy in the early days of the pandemic, the devastation here was taking place off camera in care homes. The government didn’t even start including care home deaths in the daily death count until 29th April, after this huge spike. This statistic reveals a hidden story from the first wave of the pandemic – that the worst effects were felt in care homes. The public are now used to seeing COVID-19 mortality statistics and while I think most of us would expect these numbers to be bad, I think it will come as a shock to many in just how high the numbers were at this point in the pandemic.


Highly Commended – International Statistic of the Year

5.5 million years

According to the latest estimates from the videoconferencing platform Zoom, over three trillion minutes will be spent on Zoom globally this year, equivalent to around 5.5 million years. This statistic really highlights a huge cultural shift, where huge chunks of our lives are now played out online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Vast sections of the workforce have spent much of the year working from home and videoconferencing has played a key role in keeping the economy moving, as well as keeping friends and family in touch with each other. Never did we think 2020 would be the year where scientific papers are written on the effects of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and recent news reports have spoken about a ‘Zoom boom’ in requests for cosmetic surgery now people have to look at themselves on screen. 


3 out of 5

Only 3 out of 5 people worldwide have basic handwashing facilities, according to the latest estimates from Unicef. Lacking an effective treatment for COVID-19, countries around the world have implemented interventions such as social distancing and washing our hands regularly has been a key piece of advice to slow down disease transmission. We are all familiar with the phrase “Hands, Face, Space” here in the UK. But in a year when handwashing has been so important, this statistic is particularly powerful as it tells us about global disparities. While some have already started benefitting from an effective vaccine, others just simply aren’t able to wash their hands. Highlighting one of the biggest health inequalities we face today, it will be interesting to see these figures post-pandemic.


Highly Commended – UK Statistic of the Year

19 times

Black men aged 18-24 in London are, on average, nineteen times more likely to be stopped and searched, in comparison to the city’s overall population, according to a study carried out by the UCL Institute for Global City Policing. This research looked at the experience of police stop and search for Londoners from July to September. While the killing of George Floyd took place the US, the cry for racial justice also resonated in the UK and the anti-racism protests that took place as part of the Black Lives Matter movement have been a key event of 2020. Whilst some may be aware of the issue, I don’t think many would know just how much more likely a young Black man is to be stopped by police when going about his day-to-day life. This statistic gives a snapshot of the experiences of some at the height of the pandemic.



Nineteen percent of adults were likely to be experiencing some sort of depression during the coronavirus pandemic according to ONS in June 2020. This figure of around one in five almost doubled from a figure of one in ten before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020). This research from ONS provides an understanding into Britain’s mental health. It is based on the same group of adults and provides a unique perspective on how depression has changed since before the pandemic. This survey found that those who were young, female, disabled or unable to afford an unexpected expense, were more likely to be experiencing some form of depression. Over the last couple of years there has been much more awareness around mental health issues and over the pandemic we have seen a lot of discussion in the media about the impact of the pandemic on our well-being. 

During the pandemic, we’ve seen people use numbers to back up their arguments for why something should or shouldn’t be done. As statisticians, we are cautious about the interpretation of data as we understand its uncertainties, and its strengths and limitations. 2020 has really highlighted the role of statistics in society and hopefully a positive lasting legacy of this year will be a newfound appreciation for data and statisticians.

And a couple more fun stats for you to mention over your Christmas Dinner this year…

I think we all remember the empty supermarket shelves in March and early April, as we were in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Before the UK went into lockdown, sales of toilet roll rose by 60% year-on-year, while dry pasta sales were up 55%. Lockdown has also seen pet ownership boom, with the price of puppies more than doubling during lockdown and dogs now costing almost £1,900 on average. And who would have thought that we would end 2020 talking about scotch eggs. According to Google Trends data, we have seen a four-fold increase in demand for scotch eggs after it was announced by government ministers that they would count as a substantial meal.