LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s COVID-19 mortality rate approached 10,000 on Saturday after health officials reported 917 deaths in hospital, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson continued to make “very good progress” in recovery from the virus.
The UK has now reported 9,875 deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fifth highest national rate in the world, and the increase on Saturday is the second running day that the number of dead has risen by more than 900.
Nearly 80,000 people in the UK tested positive for the virus, including Johnson, who is still in the early stages of recovery in the hospital ward after spending three nights in intensive care.
“The prime minister continues to make very good progress,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
On Friday, his office said Johnson was back on his feet while a British newspaper reported he was watching a film and reading a letter sent to him buying his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who herself suffered from symptoms of COVID-19.
The UK imposed a lockdown three weeks ago in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and ministers have appealed to Britons to comply with a ban on social gatherings over the Easter weekend when many countries have been bathed in fine spring weather.
“STAY AT HOME”
“People have to stay home unless there is a very good reason not to do it,” said health minister Matt Hancock.
The message came because the government was under increasing pressure to detail how long tighter restrictions on movement would last, with closures meaning many businesses could not operate.
The ministers said Britain needed to get past the peak of the outbreak before changes could be made, and Hancock said although the number of hospital admissions had begun to spread evenly, there was not enough evidence to have confidence that they had passed the worst.
“Our assessment is that we haven’t reached there yet. “We have not looked flat enough to be able to say that we have reached a peak,” he told BBC radio.
A decision on locking will not be made until next week the government has said, and some scientists have suggested the peak may still be a break. Hancock said “no one knows” when that would happen.
“There are various kinds of suggestions. Their job is to make the best estimates and advise us and we have many different suggestions from different scientists,” he said.
The death rate is also expected to increase over the next few days, health officials have warned, but they say they hope that the closure will mean that the total number of deaths will be below 20,000.
LACK OF PROTECTIVE TOOLS
Johnson initially took a simpler response to the plague than other European leaders, but changed tactics when projections showed a quarter of a million people could die in Britain.
The government has come under fire for initial responses and lack of preparedness, and on Saturday there was criticism from doctors and nurses who said that they had to treat patients without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.
Among those who died after testing positive for COVID-19 were 19 health workers including 11 doctors.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said medical officers faced a “heartbreaking” decision about whether to treat patients without proper protection and put themselves at risk.
The Royal College of Nursing said they got a call about the shortcomings, saying some staff were “scared”.
Hancock said 761 million PPE items had been sent to 1.4 million staff working for the National Health Service but there were problems in making sure it reached the front line.
“Clearly there is more to be done to ensure that everyone who needs it gets the PPE they need,” he said.
(This version of the story adds words dropped from paragraph two.)
Editing by Toby Chopra and David Evans
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