LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s COVID-19 death toll neared 10,000 on Saturday after health officials reported another 917 hospital deaths, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson continued to make “very good progress” in his recovery from the virus.
FILE PHOTO: A sign of support for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been in hospital since Monday as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Swynnerton, Britain, April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Carl Recine/File Photo
Britain has now reported 9,875 from the coronavirus pandemic, the fifth highest national number globally, and Saturday’s increase was the second day running that the number to die had increased by more than 900.
Almost 80,000 people in Britain have tested positive for the virus, among them Johnson, who is in the early stages of recovery on a 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 British newspapers reported he was watching films and reading letters sent to him buy his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who herself has suffered COVID-19 symptoms.
Britain imposed a lockdown three weeks ago in a bid to curb the spread of the virus and ministers have been pleading with Britons to observe the ban on social gatherings over the Easter weekend when much of the country has been bathed in sunny, Spring weather.
“STAY AT HOME”
“People have got to stay at home unless there is a very good reason not to,” health minister Matt Hancock said.
That message comes though as the government has come under increasing pressure to detail how long the strict curbs on movement would last, with the shutdown meaning many businesses are unable to operate.
Ministers have said Britain needed to pass the peak of the outbreak before changes could be made, and Hancock said although the number of hospital admissions had started to flatten out, there was not enough evidence yet to have confidence they were past the worst.
“Our judgement is we’re not there yet. We haven’t seen a flattening enough to be able to say that we’ve reached the peak,” he told BBC radio.
A decision on the lockdown will not be made until next week the government has said, and some scientists have suggested the peak might still be some time off. Hancock said “nobody knows” when it would be.
“There’s all sorts of suggestions. Their job is to make their best estimate and advise us and we have a whole load of different pieces of advice from different scientists,” he said.
The death rate is also expected to increase over the next few days, health officials have cautioned, but they say they are hopeful that the lockdown will mean that the overall number of deaths will be below 20,000.
LACK OF PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
Initially Johnson took a more modest response to the outbreak than other European leaders but changed tack when projections suggested a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom.
The government has come under fire for its initial response and a lack of preparedness, and there was criticism on Saturday from doctors and nurses who said they were having to treat patients without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.
Among those to have died after testing positive for COVID-19 are 19 health care workers including 11 doctors.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said medics were facing a “heart-breaking” decision over whether to treat patients without proper protection and so put themselves at risk.
The Royal College of Nursing said it was getting calls about shortages, saying some staff were “petrified”.
Hancock said 761 million items of PPE had been delivered to the 1.4 million staff who worked for the National Health Service but there were issues in ensuring it reached the frontline.
“There’s clearly more to do to make sure every single person who needs it gets the PPE that they need,” he said.
Editing by Toby Chopra and David Evans