Today has been Britain’s darkest day yet in its coronavirus crisis with 786 more fatalities confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the total death toll to 6,159 victims.
A 23-year-old who had no other known health problems was among those who have died, as well as hundreds of others aged up to 102. In total, 29 people did not have any long-term illnesses before they caught COVID-19.
However, in a confusing situation, there have actually been 854 deaths reported today. Because of different time frames used in counting methods across the UK, NHS England confirmed 758 people have died in its hospitals, with authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland announcing a further 96 between them.
The Department of Health, which calculates the official UK figure, uses a cut-off point of 5pm the previous day, resulting in a lower tally. Either death toll is considerably larger than the 437 announced yesterday.
There is still hope from today’s statistics, however – only 3,634 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours despite the number of tests increasing, marking the smallest rise in a week.
Chief scientific adviser to the Government, Sir Patrick Vallance, today said it is possible that the UK is starting to see ‘the beginning of change’ and that the number of new cases was starting to level off and Britain appeared to be ‘flattening the curve’ of its epidemic.
Another element of confusion comes from the fact that deaths are backdated by up to 10 days or more, meaning that fatalities that happened days or even weeks ago are recorded on a later date, superficially increasing that day’s count. As the number of delayed past deaths increases, the current day’s count snowballs and looks bigger than it really is.
Because of this, the true death toll for the UK could be 80 per cent higher than current figures suggest, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. The number announced on any given day will rise in the coming weeks as more fatalities filter through the system and are backdated.
Today’s statistics come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care in St Thomas’ Hospital in London after being transferred there last night. His spokesman says, however, that he is in good spirits, breathing on his own and does not have pneumonia. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, is standing in for Mr Johnson as deputy.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove has been the latest figure at Whitehall to come face-to-face with the virus, today revealing that he was self-isolating for two weeks because a member of his family is ill.
Scientists at the University of Washington have estimated that a shortage of intensive care beds in the UK could see it become the worst affected country in Europe, projecting that there would be 66,000 COVID-19 fatalities. Their study predicted the worst of Britain’s outbreak would happen in the coming weeks, in mid-April.
Public Health England says it has now tested 213,181 people with a total of 266,694 tests carried out – 14,006 were done yesterday on 9,740 people.
In other news in the UK’s ongoing coronavirus crisis:
- The Queen has sent a message to Boris Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, and the Johnson family, saying they were in her thoughts and that she wished the Prime Minister a ‘full and speedy recovery’;
- 10 Downing Street’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, is still working from home after entering self-isolation shortly after Mr Johnson did;
- World leaders and politicians around the globe rallied around Mr Johnson, who received well wishers from David Cameron, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump;
- Health experts have warned that the PM’s admission to intensive care means he is ‘extremely sick’ and he is ‘likely’ to end up needing a ventilator;
- A statistical projection by the University of Washington suggests the UK could become the worst-hit country in Europe, with 66,000 people dying, because it doesn’t have enough intensive care beds;
- Research by University College London said closing schools would have a limited impact on the spread of the virus, but government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson rubbished the claim.
UK DEATH TOLL COULD BE 80% HIGHER BECAUSE OF RECORDING DELAY
The true number of coronavirus victims in England could be 80 per cent higher than official figures show because of a lag in the way deaths are recorded.
By March 27, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had declared 926 COVID-19 fatalities in hospitals around the country.
This was 78 per cent lower than the 1,649 deaths recorded by NHS England during the same time frame.
If the ratio has followed the same trajectory since then, England’s true death toll may be around 8,800, instead of the official 4,897.
The true number of coronavirus victims in England could be 80 per cent higher than official figures show
This is because it can takes days – or in some cases weeks – for a coronavirus death to be reported, recorded and fed back into the Government’s overall tally.
The data does not include Scotland or Northern Ireland – up to March 27, 80 people had died in those countries (34 in Wales, 33 in Scotland and 13 in Northern Ireland).
Meanwhile, statistics show COVID-19 is now responsible for almost one in 20 of all deaths every week in England and Wales.
A medical worker is pictured in an ambulance outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being treated
London again recorded the most COVID-19 deaths of any region in Britain today, with 224 more people succumbing to the coronavirus.
But other areas of England are being badly affected, too, with Scotland, Wales and and Northern Ireland combined recording fewer deaths (96) than the Midlands (142) or the East of England (101).
In the North West 90 new fatalities were put on record today, along with 88 in the North East & Yorkshire, 77 in the South East and 36 in the South West.
The combined individual figures of devolved countries add up to more than the Department of Health’s total because the Government stops counting at 5pm the day before it announces the numbers. Whereas the other authorities keep going until the next day.
For example, the Department of Health’s official death toll across the UK stands at 6,159 – but the true figure is 6,236 when the numbers are added up for each nation (5,655 in England, 296 in Scotland, 212 in Wales and 73 in Northern Ireland).
Experts say that, as well as different daily record cut-offs, reports are slower to process over the weekend, meaning numbers appear to start declining on Sunday and Monday but then surge again towards the middle of the next week – for this reason it is better not to pin too much significance to a single day’s number.
Experts say that, although it is important that the NHS focus on helping sick patients rather than counting them, the approach to statistics is confusing.
Professor Naismith, a biology and statistics expert at the University of Oxford, said: ‘The current methods of reporting mean this daily death toll has value in transparency but it has become unhelpful and distracting in evaluating the progress of the pandemic.
‘The swings in numbers that we are seeing are emotionally draining; hope one day and despair the next.
‘The swings arise for good reasons, the NHS trusts are not focussed on reporting data but on saving lives.
‘Whilst never forgetting the tragedy that these numbers represent, I have put my focus on the trends in the data and hospital admissions as a more helpful guide to our progress than daily totals of announced deaths.’
Dr Joshua Moon, a researcher at the University of Sussex, said: ‘No single day is going to be indicative of a trend. We need a much more long-term view of all of this.
‘Backlogs in reporting and testing, the number of mild or asymptomatic cases that aren’t being tested, and the uncertain quality of the data will highly affect the ability to make decisions on all of this.’
In Spain, officials have admitted that deaths tend to build up over the weekend, get missed from statistics released on Monday, and then surge later in the week.
Figures in the UK show that death numbers tend to dip on Mondays before a spike on Tuesday. Last week, however, the number continued to rise all week from Tuesday onwards.
Spain’s deputy emergency health director, Maria Jose Sierra, insisted Spain was still on the right track despite a rise in the number of deaths and new infections today.
She blamed the increase on an accumulation of cases which had not been reported from the weekend. It is not clear whether the same thing is happening in the UK.
Ms Sierra said: ‘This is due to the weekend adjustment. It is still a downwards tendency.’
Boris Johnson (pictured as his health worsened on April 3) has spent the night in intensive care but there has been ‘no change’ in his coronavirus condition
In brighter news for Britain this afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson has confirmed he is still in a stable condition and breathing on his own.
The premier was taken into intensive care in Westminster last night at around 7pm because his fever had lasted for more than 10 days.
His spokesperson says he is still ‘in good spirits’ and his having ‘standard oxygen therapy’, which is believed to be mild therapy via a mask or nasal tube.
He has not been diagnosed with pneumonia, Downing Street confirmed.
The 55-year-old’s spokesman said today: ‘The Prime Minister has been stable overnight and remains in good spirits.
‘He is receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance. He has not required mechanical ventilation or non-invasive respiratory support.’
In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Cabinet minister Michael Gove played down concerns that the Government will be paralysed with the leader out of action, insisting that Mr Johnson had already been on a ‘stripped back diary’ for days and ‘Cabinet is the supreme decision making body’,
However, within hours it had emerged that Mr Gove himself had also been impacted by coronavirus, as he has gone into self-isolation following a family member displaying symptoms.
The PM’s sharp downturn came 11 days after he first suffered coronavirus symptoms and went into isolation. He looked increasingly unwell when glimpsed in public and in ‘selfie’ videos posted on on social media, and ministers were then shocked by his grim appearance at a Zoom conference on Sunday.
Downing Street sources confirmed Mr Johnson is not yet on a ventilator – but was moved to intensive care to be near one if needed. Some medical experts have claimed this course of action is now ‘very likely’.
55% OF CHILD CORONAVIRUS CASES ARE BOYS, REVEALS CDC REPORT
Up to one in five children who catch coronavirus need hospital care and the deadly infection is more common in boys, official US figures show.
Fifty-five per cent of the 2,500 coronavirus cases among under-18s were boys, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found. 42 per cent were girls, while the gender was unknown for another three per cent.
Compared with adults, children are less likely to suffer the tell-tale symptoms and may not show any signs of the virus at all. They are far less likely to be admitted to intensive care (two per cent) or die (0.1 per cent), according to the analysis.
A separate CDC report of almost 75,000 patients also showed exactly how different conditions raise the risk of developing coronavirus complications in adults.
For example, half of former smokers or diabetics needed to be hospitalised and/or placed in intensive care because of complications.
But the figures also showed only 1.3 per cent of the 7,000 patients for which there was full data available for were current smokers. In comparison, around 14 per cent of US adults smoke.
Other studies in China have also had surprisingly low rates of smokers, and one team of scientists from Wuhan – where the pandemic began – even suggested smokers may actually be at lower risk.
Leading experts who have scoured all of the available evidence collated on smoking and COVID-19 warn smokers are at higher risk of complications.
But they say the current warnings about smokers being at higher risk of catching the infection are based on assumptions and further trials are needed.
Two thirds of UK patients in intensive care with coronavirus have, so far, been put on a ventilator within 24 hours of arriving as the illness attacks their lungs.
Only two hours before his move to intensive care, Number 10 was insisting Mr Johnson was still spearheading the government’s coronavirus response, despite de facto deputy Mr Raab chairing the morning crisis meeting.
Yet shortly after the Foreign Secretary left the Number 10 podium following the daily 5pm press briefing, Mr Johnson, 55, suffered breathing problems.
Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, held an emergency video conference with the cabinet to tell them the bad news, in a moment one minister described as ‘truly shocking’.
Downing Street has been urged to be more ‘transparent’ about the premier’s condition, amid claims a hospital bed was being prepared for him as early as last Thursday.
Mr Gove said today: ‘If there is any change in his condition we will ensure the country is updated.’
Downing Street said Mr Raab is working from the Foreign Office but is being assisted by officials from ‘across Government’ as he co-ordinates the coronavirus response.
The spokesman said Mr Raab and the Cabinet would be able to order military action without the consent of the Prime Minister. As First Secretary of State, he would chair any meeting of the National Security Council.
Should Mr Raab be forced to self-isolate or take ill, Chancellor Rishi Sunak would be next in line to take over.
Former cabinet member and Tory peer Baroness Nicky Morgan described Mr Johnson’s condition as ‘worrying’, adding she understood it was ‘very much a skeleton staff now’ at Downing Street.
Speaking to ITV News, former prime minister David Cameron said: ‘Well obviously it’s very worrying news and all of us are praying for Boris and thinking of him and praying and thinking of his family.
‘And hoping he gets well soon and gets back to Number 10, where I know he wants to be and where we all want him to be.
‘Boris is very tough, very resilient, very fit person, I know that from facing him on the tennis court and I’m sure he’ll come through this.
‘I know he’ll want to get well and get back in charge again, and that’s what we all want for him. And we’re hoping and praying that that’s the case and that’s the case very soon.’
Mr Johnson was conscious last night and had not been intubated – the process of putting a tube in the windpipe to aid breathing.
He required around four litres of oxygen rather than the 15 litres used by an average Covid-19 ICU patient, according to the Times.
Britain could be worst coronavirus-hit nation in Europe with 66,000 deaths in the first wave of the outbreak – three times Italy’s expected toll – because of the NHS’s shortage of hospital beds and intensive care capacity, warn scientists
Britain could suffer more than 60,000 coronavirus deaths and be hit harder by the the outbreak than any nation in Europe, leading scientists say.
Modelling by researchers at the University of Washington predicted 151,680 people would succumb to the virus across the continent.
It found the UK could record 66,300 COVID-19 deaths by July – almost half (44 per cent) of the entire fatalities in Europe and three times more than Italy (20,000).
The researchers forecast Britain will need 100,000 beds by mid-April to cope with the crisis, compared to the 17,765 currently available.
But the alarming projection does not take into account the thousands of beds that will become available at the new NHS Nightingale hospitals.
The number is also in stark contrast to predictions by the UK’s leading scientific advisers, who warned around 20,000 people will die during the crisis.
Modelling conducted by the University of Washington’s School of Medicine predicts Britain’s epidemic will peak in the middle of this month. The researchers forecast Britain will need 100,000 beds by then, compared to the 17,765 currently available
The modelling suggests that outbreaks in Italy (left) and Spain (right), where hundreds of deaths have been reported daily for weeks, may be past their peak. Daily deaths in both countries have declined for several days
Countries across Europe, including the UK, Italy and Spain, have seen the numbers of people dying from coronavirus fall in recent days, offering hope that their outbreaks may be slowing down
|COUNTRY||DEATHS (TOTAL)||HIGH (DAILY)||BEDS AVAILABLE||BEDS NEEDED||BED SHORTAGE||ICU SHORTAGE||VENTILATORS NEEDED||PEAK|
HOW DID THE RESEARCHERS PREDICT COVID-19 DEATHS?
The Washington University team scoured local and international data on coronavirus case numbers.
They also used age mortality breakdowns from Italy, China and the US – the three worst-hit countries so far.
The team used this data to create a mathematical model which predicts the trajectory of outbreaks in each country.
To come up with death tolls, the scientists looked at the number of hospital beds and ICU capacity in each nation.
They predicted 102,794 coronavirus patients will need hospital beds at the outbreak’s peak in the UK, compared to 17,765 beds currently available.
The researchers also forecast 24,544 of those patients will need to be moved to intensive care, where there are just 744 ICU beds currently free.
Using local and international data on case numbers, as well as age mortality breakdowns from Italy, China and the US, the Washington University researchers modelled expected death tolls on a country-by-country basis.
They said a key consideration was the number of hospital beds and ICU capacity in each nation.
The model predicts 102,794 coronavirus patients will need hospital beds by April 17, the outbreak’s peak in the UK, compared to 17,765 beds currently available.
It forecasts 24,544 of those patients will need to be moved to intensive care, where there are just 744 ICU beds currently free.
But the bleak predictions do not include the near-10,000 beds now available at temporary NHS Nightingale hospitals in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate and Bristol.
The model also does not factor in the makeshift hospitals built in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – which free-up hundreds more ICU beds.
Most European nations introduced strict social distancing measures to try to stem the virus spread at the beginning of March.
But the British government took more than a fortnight to follow suit, initially standing firm against a tide of European action which saw schools, pubs and restaurants close.
Figures show how the UK’s rising death toll compares to other nations with similar outbreaks, including Spain, the US, Italy, Germany and France
Figures also show how the number of new cases recorded every day has risen since the crisis began to take hold in mid-March
Hospital admissions have started to slow down across England but are still rising, according to graphs presented at a Number 10 press conference tonight
Thousands of extra beds planned in stadiums, leisure centres and hotels to cope with coronavirus
Makeshift hospitals have been assembled across Britain to free up more hospital beds and prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed.
Additional temporary capacity being developed now includes:
- Birmingham: An NHS Nightingale hospital at the National Exhibition Centre will add an initial 500 beds, with the potential to grow to 2,000 if necessary.
- Manchester: An NHS Nightingale hospital at the Central Convention Complex will add 500 beds, with the capacity to expand to 1,000.
- Glasgow: The NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital is being built at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC). The hospital will provide an initial 300 beds with scope to increase the number of patients to 1,000 if necessary. It is believed the facility will be ready to open in the next two weeks and is named after a First World War nurse from Glasgow who lost her life in Serbia.
- Elsewhere in Scotland: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish Government wants to quadruple ICU beds to more than 700 but it looks as if much of this will happen within existing hospital facilities.
- Harrogate: The town’s Convention Centre is being converted to take up to 500 patients from Yorkshire and the north-east of England.
- Bristol: A site is being prepared at the University of the West of England which will take up to 1,000 patients.
- Cardiff: Two thousand beds are being made available at the Principality Stadium.
- Elsewhere across Wales: More than 4,000 other beds will be created by field hospitals erected in leisure centres, schools and stadiums. These include more than 350 at the Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli and a similar number at Venue Cymru in Llandudno. A former factory and a film studios are being converted in Swansea which will add 850 more beds in the next four weeks.
- Other field hospitals announced in Wales include at the Bluestone National Park Resort; Brailsford Sport and Leisure Centre, Bangor; Cardigan Leisure Centre; Carmarthen Leisure Centre; Council Office, Abercynon; Deeside Leisure Centre; Grange University Hospital, Cwmbran ; Llandarcy Academy of Sport, Neath; Port Talbot; Penweddig School, Aberystwyth; Plascrug Leisure Centre, Ceredigion; Selwyn Samuel Centre, Llanelli; Ty Trevithick, Abercynon; and the Vale Resort, Vale of Glamorgan.
- Belfast: The City Hospital is being set up as Northern Ireland’s Nightingale hospital and will include 230 intensive care beds.
- Cumbria: Local plans are under way to provide an extra 500 beds at leisure centres throughout the county. Equipment is being installed at Whitehaven Sports Centre, The Sands Centre in Carlisle, Penrith Leisure Centre and Kendal Leisure Centre, as well as at Furness Academy in Barrow.
- Wigan: An emergency ward is being built on a hospital car park to provide 52 more beds in the north-west.
Drive-through coronavirus assessment lanes in Whitstable are among new facilities being set up across Kent.
Drive-through testing is being established at other locations outside London, including at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham, and at the Boots headquarters in Nottingham.
These will add to the facility already running at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is himself being treated in intensive care with COVID-19, came under immense criticism for his government’s slow response to the pandemic.
As it stands, around 6,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Britain – far fewer than the 16,523 in Italy and 13,341 in Spain.
But Britain’s epidemic lags behind these countries because it can take up to three weeks for a coronavirus patient to develop symptoms, fall seriously ill and die.
It means scores of patients who caught the virus before the social restrictions were imposed are still to become critically ill and succumb to the virus.
The Washington University researchers predict Britain’s outbreak will peak on April 17.
The modelling suggests that outbreaks in Italy and Spain, where hundreds of deaths have been reported daily for weeks, may be past their peak.
Daily deaths in both countries have declined for several days.
But Britain is likely more than a week away from getting a handle on its death toll as intensive care capacity is overwhelmed, according to lead author Christopher Murray, researcher in global health and public health at the university.
He said the mathematical models take into consideration the effect of social distancing.
Mr Murray added: ‘It is unequivocally evident that social distancing can, when well implemented and maintained, control the epidemic, leading to declining death rates.
‘Those nations hit hard early on implemented social distancing orders and may have the worst behind them as they are seeing important progress in reducing their death rates.
‘Each nation’s trajectory will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax other precautions.’
On Sunday the team predicted just over 80,000 US COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic’s first wave.
Mr Murray added: ‘We are expecting a foreboding few weeks for people in many parts of Europe. It seems likely the number of deaths will exceed our projections for the United States.’
Last week, the national medical director of the NHS said the UK will have done well if it comes through the coronavirus crisis with fewer than 20,000 deaths.
When asked if he hoped that the United Kingdom was not on the same trajectory as countries such as Italy, Stephen Powis said: ‘If we can keep deaths below 20,000 we will have done very well in this epidemic.’
‘If it is less than 20,000… that would be a good result though every death is a tragedy, but we should not be complacent about that,’ said Powis, speaking at a news conference in Downing Street alongside Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
He said the NHS had been working incredibly hard to increase the intensive care capacity beyond the 4,000 beds it typically had.
Mr Powis insisted getting personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare staff was an ‘absolute priority’ as he detailed the numbers of products sent out.
More than 170million of the ‘very highest level masks’ have been dispatched ‘in the last couple of weeks,’ he said.
He added 40million gloves had been sent in recent days, as well as 25million face masks and 30million aprons. So vast numbers going out,’ he said.
‘We’re strengthening the supply chain every day to ensure that every organisation gets the equipment that they need, that’s an absolute priority for us.’