Britain’s death toll from coronavirus has passed 10,000, as one of the government’s scientific advisers warned that the country could lose more lives to the virus than any other in Europe.
A total of 10,612 people in Britain have died in hospital from Covid-19, an increase of 737 in 24 hours and more than twice the death toll a week ago.
Italy and Spain have been the worst-hit countries in Europe but Jeremy Farrar, a member of the British government’s scientific advisory group, warned that Britain’s numbers were catching up.
“I do hope that we are coming close to the number of new infections reducing and, in a week or two, the number of people needing hospital reducing, and the number of deaths starting to come down. But numbers in the UK have continued to go up. And yes, the UK is likely to be certainly one of the worst, if not the worst affected, country in Europe,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said Sir Jeremy’s comments reinforced the importance of following social distancing guidelines, asserting that the future impact of the virus would depend on the behaviour of the public. The British government has faced criticism for being too slow to introduce a lockdown and for abandoning community testing and contact tracing at an early stage in the epidemic.
The government hopes to increase testing to 100,000 a day by the end of this month but it has not introduced a formal contact tracing system similar to that in operation in Ireland and some other European countries.
Mr Hancock said a new National Health Service (NHS) app would allow people who “become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus” to voluntarily alert people with whom they have been in contact.
“The more people who get involved then the better informed our response to coronavirus will be and the better we can protect the NHS,” he said.
Boris Johnson left hospital on Sunday after a week of treatment for the coronavirus, including three days in intensive care. Downing Street said he would spend some time convalescing in Chequers before returning to work and Mr Hancock declined to speculate about how long that might take.
In a video message, Mr Johnson said the NHS had saved his life and thanked the healthcare workers who took care of him, singling out two nurses from New Zealand and Portugal who watched over him while he was in intensive care.
“The reason in the end my body did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night they were watching and they were thinking and they were caring and making the interventions I needed. So that is how I also know that across this country, 24 hours a day, for every second of every hour, there are hundreds of thousands of NHS staff who are acting with the same care and thought and precision as Jenny and Luis,” he said.