UK’s Covid-19 death toll rises to second highest in Europe at 26,097

Figure includes 3,811 deaths in nursing homes but only those who tested positive are counted

Britain's death toll from coronavirus has risen to 26,097 with the inclusion of deaths outside hospitals, the second highest total in Europe after Italy. The figure includes 3,811 deaths in nursing homes and other non-hospital settings since the start of the epidemic, as well as 765 new deaths reported in hospitals since Tuesday.

Presenting the data at a Downing Street press conference, foreign secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged that the death toll only included those who had tested positive for coronavirus. For most of the epidemic, Britain has limited testing mostly to people in hospital and other data suggest that the number of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes could be much higher.

Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England (PHE) said there had always been testing in nursing homes that reported coronavirus outbreaks but that dealing with the epidemic in more than 16,000 homes had proven to be a complex undertaking.

“The scale and the speed of this epidemic is really in the last couple of weeks,” she said.

“There is a huge national and local endeavour to not just test – which is very important – but also understand the measures that make a difference in care homes and to look at that in a very rapid way, looking at the evidence, so that we can put in place measures that protect people.”

Earlier, Mr Raab stood in for Boris Johnson at prime minister's questions after Mr Johnson's fiancée Carrie Symonds gave birth to a baby boy. Downing Street said the prime minister would not immediately take paternity leave and was back at work on Wednesday.

Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the government to publish its exit strategy from the lockdown so that people could prepare for the next phase.

“I am not asking for lockdown to be lifted. We support the government on lockdown and we’ll continue to do so, so I’m not asking for that. I’m not asking for a time frame – the government says it can’t give a time frame, I accept that and we support the government on that. I said I wouldn’t ask the impossible and I won’t. What I’m asking for is for the government to be open with the British people about what comes next,” he said.

Mr Raab said the government would not lift any of the restrictions until it was certain that it was safe to do so. At the Downing Street press conference, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said it was clear that the virus was spread more easily indoors than outdoors. But he said that did necessarily mean that it would be safe to allow park runs, beach visits or beer gardens.

“These are complex and, at various different points, they might involve a congregation of individuals and one has to be very painstaking and very careful about thinking through some of these before we make the wrong move to relax measures. We have to be extremely sure-footed and extremely painstaking about this. This virus will absolutely come back,” he said.