The UK's coronavirus death toll passed 50,000 on Wednesday as prime minister Boris Johnson was accused of presiding over a government that lacked the "trust and confidence" of the British people.
The figure is the highest in Europe and puts the UK behind only the much larger United States in a pandemic that has killed more than 379,000 people around the world.
At a fractious Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Johnson clashed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer about his approach to easing the lockdown and reopening England's schools.
The prime minister defended National Health Service (NHS) England’s test and trace system — one of the key measures introduced to help the return to something approaching normality — but promised to increase the speed with which concerned people get the results of coronavirus tests.
The Commons clashes came as the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths linked to Covid-19 was passed, according to analysis of official figures by the PA news agency.
Mr Johnson defended his handling of the crisis, telling MPs: “I take full responsibility for everything this Government has been doing in tackling coronavirus and I’m very proud of our record.”
Sir Keir said there had been a “loss of trust” in Mr Johnson’s administration and claimed the prime minister had refused an offer to work together on building a consensus on the reopening of England’s schools.
Mr Johnson said Sir Keir had not offered “any dissent” during a private phone call about the Government’s approach and questioned the purpose of his “endless attacks” on the official response to the crisis.
In response to claims that the test and trace system was weeks away from being fully operational, Mr Johnson said it was working — but stopped short of giving figures to back up his claim.
He said “thousands” of contacts of people who had tested positive for coronavirus had been traced.
In response to pressure from former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson set a target of test results being turned around in 24 hours by the end of the month.
Some 90 per cent of tests are returned within 48 hours and Mr Johnson said that he would get “all tests turned around in 24 hours by the end of June” apart from instances where there were postal or other problems.
The speed of getting results is critical to the operation of the test and trace system, which relies on identifying people who have been in contact with a positive case and getting them to self-isolate.
The latest statistics published by the National Records of Scotland pushed the UK's Covid-linked death toll beyond 50,000.
They show that 3,911 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Scotland up to May 31st.
Figures published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics showed that 44,401 deaths involving Covid-19 had occurred in England and Wales up to May 22 (and had been registered up to May 30th).
And the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, published last week, showed 716 deaths involving Covid-19 had occurred in Northern Ireland up to May 22nd (and had been registered up to May 27th).
Together these figures mean that so far 49,028 deaths have been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.
Between May 23rd and June 1st, a further 931 hospital patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 died in England, according to NHS England; while a further 78 people in hospital and care homes who had tested positive for Covid-19 died in Wales, according to Public Health Wales.
And in Northern Ireland, a further 22 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 died between May 23rd and June 2nd, according to the Northern Ireland Department of Health.
These add up to a further 1,031 deaths that have occurred since May 23, and together with the total figure of 49,028 registered deaths, means the overall death toll for the UK is now just over 50,000.
In other developments:
- UK home secretary Priti Patel was setting out details of the plan for people arriving in the UK from overseas to undergo a 14-day quarantine period from Monday.
- All schools in Wales will reopen on June 29th.
- Research indicated a rare syndrome in children linked to Covid-19 affects youngsters with African heritage more than those who are white.