UK reports record daily Covid death toll

Britain registered 1,610 virus-related deaths, the most since pandemic began, as Germany extends lockdown

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The UK on Tuesday recorded 1,610 more deaths from Covid-19, the highest daily figure since the outbreak began.

The total number of deaths has now passed the grim milestone of 90,000.

The number rose steeply from the 599 deaths reported in Monday's official figures, however, there is often a lag in reporting new deaths after the weekend.

The previous record figures was 1,564 reached last Wednesday.

The number of new infections fell significantly from 45,533 last Tuesday to 33,355 today, suggesting national lockdown restrictions are beginning to take effect. The number of cases was down from the 37,535 reported on Monday.

"Whilst there are some early signs that show our sacrifices are working, we must continue to strictly abide by the measures in place," said Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England.

Britain has the highest coronavirus death rate in the world, with figures on Tuesday showing at least one in eight people have been infected in England.

Deaths in the UK over the last month are 40 per cent more than average, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The proportion of Britons testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies almost doubled between October and December 2020. One in eight people in England developed antibodies against the virus in December, accounting for 12 per cent of the population infected, according to ONS estimates.

That is the equivalent of 5.4 million people over the age of 16 infected.

With 37,000 people in hospital with Covid-19, far more than during the first wave of infection, the death toll is likely to continue at its current rate for a number of weeks.

“I’m afraid in the next weeks we do anticipate … the number of deaths will continue to rise as the effects of what everyone has done continue to feed through,” said Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England.

“The peak of deaths, I fear, is in the future. The peak of hospitalisations in some parts of the country may be around now and beginning to come off the very, very top.”

While Britain’s mass vaccination programme is proving a success, with more than four million people already having received the first of two doses and hopes to vaccinate 15 million high-risk people by the middle of February, the country is facing weeks of high fatalities before transmission rates are expected to fall.

England and Scotland announced new national lockdowns on January 4 in a bid to stem a surge in cases after the discovery of a more transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus late last year.

The lockdown has resulted in new cases falling from a seven-day average peak of around 60,000 new daily cases on January 7, though health officials have warned that the numbers of deaths will rise even as reported cases start to come down.

"Whilst there are some early signs that show our sacrifices are working, we must continue to strictly abide by the measures in place," said Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England.

"By reducing our contacts and staying at home we will see a fall in the number of infections over time."

Meanwhile, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers agreed to extend a lockdown for most shops and schools until February 14 as part of a package of steps to try to rein in the virus.

They also agreed to mandate medical masks for passengers on public transport. The country's existing lockdown was due to run until January 31.

New infections have been decreasing in recent days and pressure on intensive care units has eased slightly, but virologists are worried about the possible spread of more infectious variants of the virus.

"The infection numbers have been going down for several weeks or stagnating, and that's good," Berlin mayor Michael Mueller said. "Now we are facing a very aggressive mutation that we have to respond to."

He said one focus would be to increase the numbers of people working from home.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 11,369 to two million, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Tuesday. The death toll was up 989 at 47,622.