UK coronavirus virus death toll passes 40,000

Government under increased pressure over ‘inadequate’ testing effort

TOPSHOT - Commuters, some wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) including face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19,  travel by public transport during the evening 'rush hour', on TfL (Transport for London) underground trains, in central London on May 14, 2020. Britain has had more than 36,000 deaths in the outbreak -- the second-worst in the world -- but has partially lifted lockdown measures in England this week. The government has been accused of putting workers' lives at risk by easing restrictions while the daily death toll is still hovering around 500.
 / AFP / Isabel Infantes
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Europe’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus hit another milestone on Tuesday as Britain’s death toll passed the 40,000 mark.

Data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) linked 41,020 deaths to the virus between the first week of March and May 8.

But the true death toll could be much higher, with the number of excess deaths – deaths above the usual average – topping 53,000.

The numbers of coronavirus-related deaths continue to fall in Britain, however, and in the week up to May 8 fell by more than a third when compared to the week before.

Coronavirus deaths in the UK’s care homes fell by 31 per cent, the data showed, but the total number of people who have now died with Covid-19 in care facilities has passed 10,000.

TOPSHOT - A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and his fiancee Carrie Symonds participate in a national "clap for carers" to show thanks for the work of Britain's NHS (National Health Service) workers and other frontline medical staff around the country as they battle with the novel coronavirus pandemic, in the doorway of 10 Downing Street in central London on May 14, 2020.  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / 10 DOWNING STREET / ANDREW PARSONS " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's handling of the pandemic has been under heightened scrutiny. AFP Photo / 10 Downing Street / Andrew Parsons 

With 597 fatalities, England’s north-west reported the highest number of deaths for the first time since the outbreak began.

The ONS said any trends in the data should be interpreted with caution, as British bank holidays were likely to affect the number of deaths being registered.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for his initial response to the global pandemic, and has faced weeks of scrutiny over the availability of tests for the virus.

As the figures were released, British MPs heaped yet more pressure on the Conservative government, calling its testing regime “inadequate” during the early stages of the infection.

Despite a recent surge in the daily number of tests being conducted, the country continues to fall short of government targets regularly.

In a 19-page letter to Mr Johnson on Tuesday, MPs on a parliamentary committee said: "Testing capacity has been inadequate for most of the pandemic so far.

"Capacity was not increased early enough or boldly enough. Capacity drove strategy, rather than strategy driving capacity," they said.

The findings by the House of Commons science and technology committee came after six sessions of evidence involving scientists, public health experts and government advisers, which also looked at other countries' responses to the virus.

On Sunday, Britain carried out 100,678 tests for coronavirus, but 1,215 tests were performed on March 10 – two weeks before a nationwide lockdown was ordered and as cases soared.

Lack of testing capacity was also a factor for the decision to stop contact tracing on March 12, the committee said.

Health Minister Matt Hancock made an army of contact tracers a key part of a new approach to tackling the spread of the virus, alongside wider community testing and the roll out of a smartphone app.

He announced on Monday that 21,000 contact tracers had been recruited, and testing has been expanded to include everyone aged five and over with symptoms.

A new target of 200,000 tests per day has been set for the end of this month.

The government aims to use data from all three sources to inform its easing of lockdown measures, including the partial reopening of schools.

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