Britain’s home secretary Priti Patel has said she was sorry if anyone felt there had been failings over the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers afte r it was confirmed that 19 NHS workers had died from Covid-19 .
Britain’s coronavirus 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.
Britain has now reported 9,875 from the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, 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.
The Government has been dogged by criticism since the pandemic hit UK shores that not enough PPE was being made available to health workers, especially those working in social care.
Ms Patel, fielding questions at a Downing Street briefing on Saturday, said she was “sorry” if people felt there had been failings regarding the supply of PPE.
After being asked twice if she would apologise to NHS staff and their families over the lack of “necessary PPE”, Ms Patel said: “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.
“But at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now.
“It is inevitable that the demand and the pressures on PPE and demand for PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high.
“And of course we are trying to address that as a Government.”
Almost 80,000 people in Britain have tested positive for the virus, among them Mr 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 Mr 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.
The death toll in English hospitals rose over the past 24 hours by 823 to a total of 8,937.
Those who died aged were between 11 and 102-years-old, and 33 had no known underlying health condition, NHS England said.
Earlier on Saturday, health secretary Matt Hancock said 19 people working in the NHS have died from coronavirus during the pandemic. Mr Hancock who said there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to go round if it is used correctly.
“My heart goes out to their families, these are people who have put themselves on the front line,” Mr Hancock said of those who have died.
“I’m particularly struck at the high proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds and people who have come to this country to work in the NHS who have died of coronavirus.
“I find it really upsetting actually and it is a testament to the fact that people who have come from all over the world have come and given their lives in service to the NHS and paid for that with their lives.”
Mr Hancock said his goal was to ensure that “everyone” working in a critical role gets what they need in terms of protective equipment but that the equipment needed to be used in line with official guidance.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) dismissed any suggestions that healthcare staff were “abusing or overusing” PPE.
RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that no PPE was “more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life”.
She said that every day she was hearing from nurses saying they did not have enough PPE.
“I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE,” she said.
“I think what we know is, we don’t have enough supply and not enough regular supply of PPE . . . This is the number one priority nurses are bringing to my attention, that they do not have adequate supply of protective equipment.”
The BMA medical union warned on Friday that PPE supplies in London and Yorkshire were at “dangerously low levels”.
Mr Hancock acknowledged distributing masks, gloves, aprons and hand sanitiser to frontline workers is requiring a “Herculean logistical effort”.
He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday it was important that healthcare workers use the “right amount” of protective equipment.
“I am not impugning anyone who works for the NHS and I think they do an amazing job,” he said.
“But what I am reiterating, stressing, is the importance to use the right amount of PPE both to have enough and also to use it as the precious resource that it is.”
The latest figures from the UK Department of Health and Social Care showed that as of Thursday there were 8,958 hospital deaths from the disease — an increase of 980 on the previous day.
A British scientist has said that a vaccine to coronavirus could be ready as soon as September.
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, told The Times on Saturday that she was “80 per cent confident” that the vaccine being developed by her team would work, with human trials due to begin in the next fortnight.
“I think there’s a high chance that it will work based on other things that we have done with this type of vaccine,” she said.
“It’s not just a hunch and as every week goes by we have more data to look at... I would go for 80 per cent, that’s my personal view.”
The UK government is urging people to stay at home over Easter amid fears that with continuing good weather forecast, people would flock to parks and beaches and undermine its social distancing strategy.
Mr Hancock acknowledged Easter would be a “test of the nation’s resolve” but said the clear message from NHS staff battling to save desperately sick patients was “they need you to stay at home”.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson was continuing to recover following his discharge from the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital where he has been receiving treatment for coronavirus.
The prime minister was said to be able do “short walks” between rests, although Downing Street refused to be drawn on how long he was expected to remain in hospital.
With the government due to carry out the first three-week review of the lockdown measures next week, ministers are facing calls to explain how the restrictions will ultimately be lifted.
Meanwhile police have also revealed that 1,084 fines have been issued for breaches of coronavirus regulations in England and Wales.
Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said only a “small minority of people” had failed to follow the Government guidance.
The Prime Minister announced a lockdown three weeks ago that banned travel outside of the home, except for exercise, to shop for essential goods, to go to a job that cannot be done from home or to provide care.
The fines were issued from across 37 different forces, Mr Hewitt said. “Across all of those forces, that is an average of less than 84 a day,” he told the press briefing.
“This shows that the overwhelming majority of people are abiding by the rules and are staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”