PHOTO FILE: An ambulance crew member from the South Central Ambulance Service loads a patient into an ambulance, near Portsmouth, England May 5, 2020. Leon Neal / Pool via REUTERS
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s COVID-19 death toll neared 50,000 on Tuesday, confirming its place as one of the hardest-hit countries in the world when Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to calm a tight epidemic of the coronavirus.
The number of victims now stands at 49,646, including death certificate data for England and Wales released from Tuesday to May 22, previously published figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and recent hospital deaths in the UK.
The death toll has sparked criticism of Johnson, which opposition parties say is too slow to force closure, too slow to protect the elderly in nursing homes and too slow to build a testing and tracking system.
The Johnson government says that although it may have made some mistakes, the government is grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza outbreak and ensuring health services are not overwhelmed.
However, the dismal death rate even surpassed some projections by the government’s own scientific advisers.
In March, Britain’s chief scientific adviser said keeping deaths below 20,000 would be “a good result”. In April, Reuters reported the government’s worst-case scenario was 50,000 deaths.
In contrast to the daily death toll issued by the government, Tuesday’s death certificate figures include suspected cases and confirmed COVID-19 cases, respiratory diseases caused by novel coronaviruses.
Epidemiologists say excess deaths – deaths from all causes that exceed the five-year average for this year – are the best way to measure deaths from epidemics because they are internationally comparable.
Around 62,000 more people than usual have died in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic this year, according to the latest available data, an expert from the National Statistics Office said on Tuesday.
Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Guy Faulconbridge
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