U.K. Becomes First European Country to Surpass 100,000 Covid Deaths
(Bloomberg) -- More than 100,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.K., the first country in Europe to surpass the threshold.
“It’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised press conference on Tuesday. “I am deeply sorry for every life lost.”
The scale of the pandemic has exceeded some of the worst predictions made a year ago. Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser, said in March that fewer than 20,000 deaths would be a “good outcome” for Britain.
The number of dead has doubled since Nov. 7, when the toll reached 50,000. Johnson eased restrictions to allow non-essential shops to reopen in the run-up to Christmas but families had to rein in their plans to meet over the festive season as cases of the virus soared.
The prime minister brought in a new lockdown on Jan. 5 to try to prevent the spread of the new variant, which scientists said was more contagious than the original virus. That’s helped reduce the average number of new cases in the past week to almost half that of the peak in early January, easing the pressure on hospitals, which have been struggling to cope with the resurgence.
The government has faced criticism for its management of the pandemic, including that it waited too long to impose lockdowns and that it failed to get sufficient stocks of protective equipment for health workers.
“Mistakes have been made,” said Richard Murray, chief executive at The King’s Fund, a think tank focused on health and social care. “Decisions to enter lockdown have consistently come late, with the government failing to learn from past mistakes or the experiences of other countries.”
Johnson, who has come under repeated pressure from members of parliament from his Conservative Party to ease restrictions, defended his government’s response and said everything had been done to stem the number of deaths.
“We did everything that we could to minimize suffering and minimize the loss of life,” he said. “We will make sure we learn the lessons and reflect and prepare.”
The prime minister promised a plan for lifting curbs on businesses and people’s social lives “over the course of the next few days and weeks.” But standing alongside him, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty urged caution.
“It looks like it’s coming down slightly in some areas, but in others it’s not convincing,” Whitty said. People should be “realistic” that deaths will come down “relatively slowly over the next two weeks,” he said.
Whitty, who is Johnson’s senior health adviser, said the government was worried two weeks ago that the current lockdown measures “were not enough to hold this new variant,” but said infection rates are now “just about holding.”
There are 37,561 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 across the country. Deaths in London, which is at the center of the current outbreak, are running at 84% above the five-year average amid concerns a new strain of the virus is more fatal.
The U.K. has been rushing to vaccinate the population as it tries to pilot its way out of the health crisis, raising hopes that the worst of the pandemic will be behind it within months. Shots have already been given to more than six million people.
- There are 4,032 people on mechanical ventilators
- A further 20,089 cases were reported on Tuesday, and 1,631 deaths were reported
The U.K. measures fatalities that take place within 28 days of a positive test. The country has the fourth-highest mortality rate from the disease, based on deaths per 100,000 people, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University of Medicine. San Marino, Belgium and Slovenia are the worst performers.
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