LONDON (AP) – More than 100,000 people have died in Britain after contracting the coronavirus, a year after Europe’s deadliest outbreak, government figures showed Tuesday.
Britain is the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 virus-related deaths, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, and by far the smallest. The US has recorded more than 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, the world’s highest total, but its population of around 330 million is about five times that of Britain.
The health department said 100,162 people had died after testing positive, including 1,631 new deaths reported Tuesday.
“It’s hard to quantify the grief contained in those grim statistics,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said grimly at a televised news conference.
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The British toll is more than double that of those killed by German bombs in Britain in the 1940-41 Blitz, and 30,000 more than the total number of British civilians killed during the six years of World War II.
The first confirmed British victim of the virus was Peter Attwood, an 84-year-old retiree who died on January 30, 2020 – although the cause was not recorded as COVID-19 until several months later.
A year later, hundreds of thousands of British people mourned the loss of a loved one, and demanded responsibility for the dire toll.
In part, Britain has suffered from long-standing factors such as high rates of conditions including obesity and heart disease, the huge gap between rich and poor and London’s status as a global crossroads.
But decisions during a pandemic also play a role. Johnson’s Conservative Government has been accused by many scientists of waiting too long to enforce the lockdown in March as infections increased exponentially. Leading epidemiologists say acting a week early may have cut the death toll in half.
As in other European countries, cases fell in the summer, then resurfaced. A more contagious variant identified in southeastern England helped push infections to new highs, and brought new lockdowns, even as a national vaccination campaign began.
Johnson – who spent a week in hospital with the virus in April – has promised that a public investigation will examine the handling of the pandemic in Britain, although he has not said when it will start.
“Of course we will learn lessons in due time and certainly there will be time to reflect and prepare for the next pandemic,” Johnson said last week.
The official count records people who died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
The total death toll, as elsewhere, is likely even higher, partly because of missed cases at the start of the pandemic. The UK statistics agency says that the number of registered deaths that mention COVID-19 on the death certificate is more than 108,000.
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