Covid-19: Johnson ‘deeply sorry’ as UK passes 100,000 deaths

CMO says recent surge in infections due to variant could not have been predicted

A projection commemorating the lives lost to Covid-19 in the UK is displayed on BMA House in London, England. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

A projection commemorating the lives lost to Covid-19 in the UK is displayed on BMA House in London, England. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

 

Boris Johnson has said he is “deeply sorry” for more than 100,000 lives lost to coronavirus in Britain but insisted that his government had done everything possible to minimise deaths from the virus.

The prime minister was speaking in Downing Street hours after official figures recorded 100,162 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, making Britain the first country in Europe to suffer a death toll above 100,000.

“We did everything that we could to minimise suffering and minimise loss of life in this country as a result of the pandemic. And I’m deeply sorry for every, every, every life lost,” he said.

Mr Johnson has faced criticism throughout the pandemic for acting too late in imposing restrictions and ignoring expert advice in favour of earlier lockdowns. But chief medical officer Chris Whitty said a recent surge in infections was caused by the arrival of the new, more transmissible variant of the virus which could not have been predicted when restrictions remained lax during the autumn.

“The question about when to actually do particular measures has always been a matter of trying to balance. I’ve said this repeatedly throughout this tragic pandemic, balance the things which actually reduce the risk of transmission with all the other things we’re trying to do in terms of society,” he said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer described the loss of more than 100,000 people to coronavirus as a national tragedy, adding that Britain must learn the lessons of what went wrong.

“We must never become numb to these numbers or treat them as just statistics. Every death is a loved one, a friend, a neighbour, a partner or a colleague. It is an empty chair at the dinner table. To all those that are mourning, we must promise to learn the lessons of what went wrong and build a more resilient country. That day will come and we will get there together,” he said.

Vaccines

Prof Whitty defended Britain’s decision to allow a gap of up to 12 weeks between the first and second doses of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. But he did not address doubts raised by German newspaper reports over evidence of the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in over 65s.

Britain has vaccinated millions of older people with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine but Emer Cooke, head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), suggested on Tuesday that limited data from clinical trials could lead the agency to authorise the vaccine for use only in younger cohorts.

AstraZeneca’s warning that it will supply 60 per cent fewer doses to the EU has prompted the European Commission to oblige vaccine manufacturers to seek permission before exporting doses to non-EU countries. Britain’s doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are produced in Belgium but Mr Johnson said he had total confidence in the supply of vaccines.

“Obviously we expect and hope that our EU friends will honour all contracts,” he said.

“We continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world, because the delivery of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, the creation of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, and the delivery of the vaccine is multinational as well, because the virus knows no borders.”