U.K. to Include Surging Care Home Deaths in Daily Virus Data
An elderly couple walk through Greenwich Park in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

U.K. to Include Surging Care Home Deaths in Daily Virus Data

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will include the growing number of coronavirus deaths in care homes in its daily tally, a move that risks making its published toll significantly worse than other Europe countries.

Until now, Britain had only given daily updates on the number of people dying with Covid-19 in hospitals. It had excluded deaths in the country’s 15,000 homes for the elderly on the grounds that data was harder to collect quickly, prompting criticism the government was under-reporting the number of fatalities linked to the virus.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday showed the number of deaths in care homes in England and Wales surged in the week ending April 17, with about 28% of them linked to Covid.

By excluding care homes from its daily figures, the government could claim the U.K.’s death toll was broadly tracking those of its European neighbors. But once deaths outside hospitals were included, a graph produced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own office gives the U.K. the highest death rate of any European country at the same stage in the outbreak.

Government scientists, though, stressed the difficulties of making international comparisons: the U.K., for example, uses a broader definition to count deaths resulting from the virus than France, they said.

The disclosure is likely to pile more pressure on Johnson’s government, which has already faced criticism for responding too slowly to the pandemic and failing to protect the staff and elderly residents of care homes.

At a press conference in London, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government now plans to offer virus tests to everyone living or working in the facilities -- whether they have symptoms or not.

“I am determined to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable,” he said.

Hancock also said he will offer tests to anyone over the age of 65 showing symptoms and those who have to leave their house for work if they have signs of the disease.

In other developments on Tuesday:

  • A further 586 people were reported to have died from the virus in U.K. hospitals, up from 360 deaths reported on Monday
  • The total number of deaths in hospitals now stands at 21,678, but Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, said hospital admissions and deaths are falling, especially in London
  • The U.K. now has more confirmed cases than Germany, and the fifth-highest number of confirmed cases in the world.
  • Hancock reiterated the U.K. is on course to hit its target of 100,000 tests a day by Thursday.
  • One of the six different virus treatments being tested by the U.K. is entering an early clinical trial
  • McLean said there is “weak evidence” to support wearing face masks in public after Scotland’s government advised people to use them when visiting shops or on public transport

The expansion of testing to people working away from their homes may be part of an effort to encourage more people back to work. Earlier, the government clarified its advice to say “non-essential” stores such as garden centers can open if they operate “click-and-collect” services.

Despite pressure from some businesses and Conservative members of parliament, a wider easing of the lockdown looks unlikely before the second half of May. Hancock said the mobile phone app necessary to enable the track-and-trace system that is now part of the government’s strategy won’t be ready until then.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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