Coronavirus UK: Death toll hits 1,798 as over 22k test positive


A record-breaking 381 coronavirus deaths and 3,009 cases were declared in the UK today, which is now officially Britain’s darkest day so far in the ever-worsening crisis.

Some 1,789 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have now died, while the total infection toll has surpassed 25,000 – but the true size of the outbreak remains a mystery because of the UK’s controversial policy to only test patients in hospital.

The number of new deaths recorded today is twice as high as the 180 victims recorded yesterday. But there was only a 14 per cent jump in daily cases – up from 2,619. 

And the number of hospital admissions appears to have slowed, going up by a ‘constant amount’ each day, data shows – with around 1,000 new patients a day being treated by the NHS. 

One of today’s victims was only 19 years old and had no underlying conditions that made them more vulnerable to the life-threatening complications of the illness.

The unidentified teenager is the UK’s youngest otherwise-healthy patient to have died. MailOnline understands their death was recorded at North Middlesex University Hospital in Enfield, north London.

England is at the centre of Britain’s crisis with 1,651 deaths recorded in hospitals, while more than 60 people have died in both Scotland and Wales, plus around 30 in Northern Ireland. 

There have been 1,808 known fatalities when the individual tallies from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are counted but the official UK-wide toll is lower because it cuts off at 5pm the day before it is announced, meaning extra fatalities recorded by the devolved nations will be added in to tomorrow’s count. 

Today’s development comes after government statisticians revealed this morning that the true death toll may be 24 per cent higher when people who died outside of NHS hospitals are added in to the count.

Office for National Statistics data showed that 210 people had died in the UK by March 20, when the Government had only recorded 170 in the same time frame – a difference of almost a quarter. If that ratio remains true today the true number of fatalities could be 2,230 or more.

NHS officials today confirmed the outbreak – which officials have admitted has been spreading between humans on British soil for over a month – has grown so large that hospitals no longer have to wait for families’ consent to announce their relatives’ deaths, something they still had to do just last week. 

Other developments in the UK’s crisis include:

  • Utility companies warned there is a risk staff shortages will lead to power cuts and have written to vulnerable customers to make sure they’re prepared
  • Statistics have revealed the early coronavirus deaths in the UK were overwhelmingly elderly and male, with over-85s making up 47% of all fatalities
  • Hundreds of shoppers sparked fury in Bristol after being spotted buying plants and headphones on leisurely shopping trips despite a Government lockdown
  • Foreign NHS staff will receive automatic visa extensions from the Government to enable them to stay in the UK fighting the coronavirus outbreak
  • London, Sheffield, Birmingham and Slough have the highest rates of coronavirus infections in the UK, per 100,000 people, according to official data
  • NHS Blood and Transplant has said it is rejecting organ transplants from donors infected with the coronavirus
Medical staff are pictured wheeling a patient out of an ambulance at St Thomas' Hospital in London today. The capital city, home to around nine million people, is at the centre of the UK's crisis

Medical staff are pictured wheeling a patient out of an ambulance at St Thomas’ Hospital in London today. The capital city, home to around nine million people, is at the centre of the UK’s crisis

Statistics released this morning revealed basic details about the first 108 people in Britain to have COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificate. Elderly people and men were the worst affected, the data showed

By March 20, the coronavirus had become a contributing factor or direct cause in one in every 100 deaths in the UK, according to the latest date from the Office for National Statistics

By March 20, the coronavirus had become a contributing factor or direct cause in one in every 100 deaths in the UK, according to the latest date from the Office for National Statistics

The number of Brits who have been admitted to hospital with coronavirus has now almost reached 10,000, since the outbreak began to take hold in early March

The number of Brits who have been admitted to hospital with coronavirus has now almost reached 10,000, since the outbreak began to take hold in early March 

Charts from Public Health England show how the UK's outbreak compares to other countries battling similar situations. Despite being published today in the Downing Street press conference, it does not include the most up-to-date figures

Charts from Public Health England show how the UK’s outbreak compares to other countries battling similar situations. Despite being published today in the Downing Street press conference, it does not include the most up-to-date figures

CORONAVIRUS DEATH TOLL 24% HIGHER WHEN NON-HOSPITAL VICTIMS INCLUDED 

The true death toll of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK could be 24 per cent higher than NHS figures show, according to statistics released today.

Patients who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates numbered 210 in England and Wales up to March 20, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

This was 24 per cent higher than the 170 deaths recorded by NHS England and Public Health Wales during the same time frame. 

If the ratio has stayed true since that time, the true current number of fatalities could be around 1,739 instead of the official 1,408.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has launched a new data series adding in the numbers of people who have died with or after having COVID-19 in the community, including those who died in care homes or their own houses.

Coronavirus was not necessarily the cause of death for every one of the patients, but was believed to have been a factor.  

The data does not include Scotland or Northern Ireland – up to March 20, eight people had died in the those countries (six in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland), suggesting the true figure could have been 10. 

In its statement published this afternoon, NHS England said: ‘A further 367 people, who tested positive for the Coronavirus (Covid-19) have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in England to 1,651.

‘Patients were aged between 19 and 98 years old and all but 28 patients (aged between 19 and 91 years old) had underlying health conditions.’ 

Increases in positive tests today pushed the number of diagnosed coronavirus patients to a total of 25,150 in the UK, including 1,993 in Scotland, 1,563 in Wales and 586 in Northern Ireland. 

Experts believe the true number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus could now be more than two million, but the Government is only testing people ill enough to be admitted to hospital.

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the Government, has said there could be around 1,000 cases for every one person who dies.

With a death count of 1,789, this could mean almost 1.8million people have been infected with the virus.  

Sir Patrick, speaking at yesterday’s Government briefing, said the number of people being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 is going up ‘in a constant amount’.

The number of hospital patients has risen to around 9,000 from just 4,300 last Thursday. 

But Sir Patrick assured the public the fact the NHS was seeing an additional 1,000 patients a day with coronavirus-related admissions was ‘not an acceleration’ and that the health service was still coping. 

Sheffield and Slough are coronavirus hotspots in the UK, not far behind London which continues to speed ahead. London has 64 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Sheffield, in South Yorkshire, with 52 cases

Sheffield and Slough are coronavirus hotspots in the UK, not far behind London which continues to speed ahead. London has 64 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Sheffield, in South Yorkshire, with 52 cases

Dr Simon Clarke, a biology expert at the University of Reading, said today: ‘The news of a further 381 deaths on the back of a lower than expected increase yesterday, is shocking but sadly unsurprising and we can expect to see the UK’s COVID-19 death toll to continue to head higher over coming weeks. 

‘There will be days when the figures are comparatively low, but there will also be days when we see distressingly large increases.

‘It’s therefore important to look at trends over a number of consecutive days, rather than draw conclusions from any single day’s figures.’

Professor Jim Naismith from Oxford University, added: ‘We can’t forget that behind these numbers are awful personal losses.’ 

The new death figures come after a set of statistics this morning suggested the number of people dying could be 24 per cent higher than the NHS says. 

Patients who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates numbered 210 in England and Wales up to March 20, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

London has recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths so far, followed by the South East and West Midlands, according to official statistics

London has recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths so far, followed by the South East and West Midlands, according to official statistics

A new set of national data which was first released this morning appears to be giving the most accurate picture of deaths across England and Wales by including people who die outside of hospitals, but is 11 days behind the rest of the country

A new set of national data which was first released this morning appears to be giving the most accurate picture of deaths across England and Wales by including people who die outside of hospitals, but is 11 days behind the rest of the country

STATISTICS REVEAL DETAILS OF FIRST 108 UK COVID-19 DEATHS 

Three quarters of the UK’s first coronavirus fatalities were over the age of 75, according to official statistics. 

Details of the first 108 people to die from COVID-19 in England and Wales have emerged today in figures revealing deaths outside of NHS hospitals for the first time.

They show that 59 per cent of the victims up to March 20 were male, a total of 64 out of 108, while 44 women died.

Only one person under the age of 44 was counted among the fatalities and 73 per cent (79 people) were over the age of 75.

The numbers, published by the Government’s Office for National Statistics, revealed that the true death toll of the virus may be 24 per cent higher than NHS data shows.

The ONS recorded 210 deaths up to and including March 20 in England and Wales, during which time the Department of Health tallied only 170.

The higher figure includes anyone who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificate, whether it was a direct cause of death or not. Some may not have even been tested. 

Statistics show the majority of the first coronavirus deaths in England and Wales were among people aged over 85.

There were 45 deaths among over-85s; 34 deaths in the 75-84 age group; 21 deaths between 65 and 74; seven for 45 to 64-year-olds; and one between 15 and 44. There were none among children. 

The single hardest-hit age group was men over 85, among whom there were 27 fatalities. There were 20 among men aged 75-84, and 18 for female over-85s.

This was 24 per cent higher than the 170 deaths recorded by NHS England and Public Health Wales during the same time frame. 

If the ratio has stayed true since that time, the true current number of fatalities could be around 1,739 instead of the official 1,408.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has launched a new data series adding in the numbers of people who have died with or after having COVID-19 in the community, including those who died in care homes or their own houses.

Coronavirus was not necessarily the cause of death for every one of the patients, but was believed to have been a factor. 

The statistics show that only one of the UK’s first 108 coronavirus victims was under the age of 44. 60 per cent of them were men and 93 per cent were aged over 65. 

The data does not include Scotland or Northern Ireland – up to March 20, eight people had died in the those countries (six in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland), suggesting the true figure could have been 10.

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Anyone who has the virus – for which at least 22,141 people have tested positive in the UK – mentioned on their death certificate will be included in the weekly statistics.

This adds to the daily updates coming from NHS hospitals around the country where adults of all ages are dying in intensive care units. 

It comes after it was revealed that King’s College Hospital in London has had three times as many deaths as official figures show and there are concerns the true figure is days or even weeks behind because of how long it takes to confirm cases.

In France, senior officials have admitted they expect their national count is wrong because of delays and unreported deaths happening outside of hospitals. 

The ONS showed that a total 210 deaths in England and Wales that occurred up to and including March 20 (and which were registered up to March 25) had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate.

This compares with 170 coronavirus-related deaths reported by NHS England and Public Health Wales up to and including March 20. 

A makeshift hospital has been set up in London at the ExCel London, the Nightingale Hospital, to cope with a surge in coronavirus patients

A makeshift hospital has been set up in London at the ExCel London, the Nightingale Hospital, to cope with a surge in coronavirus patients

A paramedic is pictured in the back of an ambulance at a hospital in London, which is at the heart of the UK's fast-growing coronavirus epidemic

A paramedic is pictured in the back of an ambulance at a hospital in London, which is at the heart of the UK’s fast-growing coronavirus epidemic

WHERE ARE THE UK CORONAVIRUS HOTSPOTS? 

By cases per 100,000 people   

  1. London: 64 confirmed cases per 100,000 people
  2. Sheffield: 59 cases per 100,000
  3. Birmingham: 50 
  4. Slough: 49 
  5. Derby: 46 
  6. Newcastle: 40 
  7. Liverpool: 36 
  8. Milton Keynes: 35 
  9. Barnsley: 32 
  10. Sunderland: 31 

By total cases

  1. Birmingham: 578 total cases
  2. Hampshire: 498 cases
  3. Sheffield: 428
  4. Southwark (London): 368
  5. Lambeth (London): 366 
  6. Brent (London): 359
  7. Surrey: 358
  8. Cumbria: 340
  9. Hertfordshire: 339
  10. Wandsworth (London): 314 

The majority of the deaths reported by health authorities around the UK have taken place in the 10 days since March 20.

During that period the fatality total has risen almost 10-fold from 177 to 1,408. 

While statistics have until now only counted people dying in NHS hospitals, new counts will show any death that medics link to the virus, wherever it happens.

Death tolls around the UK are expected to soar in the coming days and weeks as people who caught the virus before the country was put into lockdown succumb to the disease.

It can take up to three weeks before somebody is killed by COVID-19, suggesting there could be another fortnight before the effects of last Monday’s travel restrictions start to show.

It has been one week since Britons were told not to go outside unless it was necessary.

As well as a delay between people catching the virus and dying, there can also be lags between someone’s death and it being officially announced.

NHS staff have to test critically ill patients more than once to confirm they have the disease and must also notify their families.

Death statistics being shared by NHS hospitals have already shown time lags of 10 days or more.

The ONS release today has also revealed details of the UK’s first 108 coronavirus deaths for the first time, showing that three quarters of them were over the age of 75.  

A police officer asks people to leave the beach in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown during the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus

A police officer asks people to leave the beach in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown during the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus

A man wearing a face mask during a walk along the promenade in Brighton, as the UK continues its coronavirus lockdown

A man wearing a face mask during a walk along the promenade in Brighton, as the UK continues its coronavirus lockdown

Deaths in the Republic of Ireland rise by 17 to 71 as six more die in Northern Ireland 

Another 17 patients with Covid-19 have died in the Republic of Ireland, bringing the total number of deaths to 71.

In the last 24 hours 325 new cases of coronavirus have also been confirmed, bringing the total to 3,235.

Across the country, 703 people have been hospitalised with Covid-19. Of these 113 are in intensive care.

Around a quarter of the transmissions are among healthcare workers, health officials said. 

It comes as six more people have died with coronavirus in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 28. 

It showed that 59 per cent of the victims up to March 20 were male, a total of 64 out of 108, while 44 women died.

Only one person under the age of 44 was counted among the fatalities and 73 per cent (79 people) were over the age of 75.

The numbers, published by the Government’s Office for National Statistics, revealed that the true death toll of the virus may be 24 per cent higher than NHS data shows.

The ONS recorded 210 deaths up to and including March 20 in England and Wales, during which time the Department of Health tallied only 170.

The higher figure includes anyone who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificate, whether it was a direct cause of death or not. Some may not have even been tested. 

There are now at least 1,408 people dead in the UK because of coronavirus and more than 22,000 people have tested positive since the outbreak began in late February. 

ONS’s figures, which don’t include Scotland or Northern Ireland, have a lag of 11 days because of how long it takes to official register deaths, meaning huge spikes in its data can be expected in the coming weeks as it catches up with the devastating fortnight the UK has just experienced.

UK waives duties so it can boost import of coronavirus testing kits, ventilators and other vital medical equipment as it faces furious backlash over lagging behind Germany which is testing 500,000 people every week

Britain will waive import taxes on coronavirus testing kits, ventilators and other vital medical supplies in a bid to boost the fight against the deadly disease amid widespread criticism of the government’s testing operation. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced this evening that NHS suppliers will no longer have to pay customs duty and import VAT on specified medical items coming from outside the EU.  

It came as Michael Gove admitted the government’s coronavirus testing efforts must go ‘further, faster’ as Downing Street suggested a target of 25,000 daily checks may not be met until the end of next month. 

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said the lack of availability of globally in-demand crucial chemicals which are needed in the testing process was proving a ‘critical constraint’ on expanding checks. 

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Gove said: ‘While the rate of testing is increasing we must go further, faster. A critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing.

‘The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are working with companies worldwide to ensure that we get the material we need to increase tests of all kinds.’ 

Mr Gove also revealed the first wave of new ventilator devices will roll off the production line this weekend and be delivered to the NHS next week when they will be ‘rapidly distributed to the frontline’.

Meanwhile, the medical director of NHS England Professor Stephen Powis warned that while there are ‘green shoots’ of hope in relation to the spread of coronavirus after an apparent plateau in the number of new cases, the UK must not be ‘complacent’.    

‘It is really important not to read too much because it is really early days,’ he said. ‘We are not out of the woods, we are very much in the woods.’

Critics today labelled the UK’s efforts on testing a ‘catastrophe’ and ‘dismal’ when compared to what is being done in Germany where 500,000 tests are being carried out every week. 

Rishi Sunak today announced that he is waiving import duty on medical supplies like coronavirus testing kits

Rishi Sunak today announced that he is waiving import duty on medical supplies like coronavirus testing kits 

Downing Street had earlier hinted at Mr Johnson’s apparent frustration at the slow progress on ramping up Britain’s capacity, with a spokesman saying he wanted ‘as much progress to be made on this as possible’. 

The UK is currently managing just under 10,000 tests a day with the government having previously said it wants to get to 25,000 by the middle of April.

But today Number 10 said the timetable was ‘mid to late April’ – seemingly an admission that efforts have stalled. 

Experts have insisted ‘organisation’ rather than a shortage of facilities is to blame for the painfully slow rise in checks.

However, the UK is struggling to obtain enough of the tests themselves, with Germany seemingly able to acquire them from domestic manufacturers while Britain is having to import them. 

The competition for the tests was illustrated today by reports NHS England and NHS Wales ended up bidding against each other for equipment at the end of last week, prompting the four Home Nations to agree that all procurement will be done in Whitehall.

It is hoped that the Chancellor’s decision to waive customs duty and import VAT on key medical supplies will make it easier to ship in the tests.

Mr Sunak said: ‘We are taking decisive action to ensure our NHS has everything it needs to fight this outbreak.

‘Waiving import taxes on vital medical equipment such as ventilators will speed up and increase the supply of critical items going to our frontline health workers.’  

However, the government will have to dramatically increase its efforts if it is to win over its critics who today slammed ministers for not doing enough. 

Jeremy Hunt, the Tory chairman of the Health Select Committee, said it would be ‘very worrying’ if the UK chose not to follow the lead of the likes of Germany and South Korea. 

He said mass testing allows for ‘a lot less’ disruption to daily lives because those who have the disease can be isolated and prevented from passing the virus on.  

He said: ‘It is internationally proven as the most effective way of breaking the chain of transmission.

‘So however difficult it is to source the reagents, to ramp up the capacity of laboratories up and down the country, it is essential that mass community testing is part of our national strategy.’

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, labelled the UK’s testing efforts a ‘catastrophe’, telling MailOnline: ‘It’s an embarrassment. We do not appear to have done anything in six weeks to get ourselves in a better position on this.

‘If I was an NHS frontline worker waiting week after week after week for this I would be furious.’

He added: ‘70,000 tests a day in Germany, a million tests now conducted in America, and we in six weeks have managed to do as many tests as the Germans do in two days.

‘Everybody wants to believe in their leader during a crisis and everyone has given Boris the benefit of the doubt… I think public opinion is beginning to ask very serious questions.’

Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told MailOnline that the government’s ‘dismal’ handling of the testing crisis will send vast numbers of British businesses to the wall – and delay the country’s economic recovery.

The gym mogul and former Dragons’ Den star said: ‘The government must get on top of testing immediately. The longer we are in lockdown the more businesses will go bust. 

‘My business hands over £39million to the Government every year in VAT, PAYE and corporation tax. As long as we are closed they get nothing.

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‘Their handling of the testing issue has been dismal to say the least.’ 

Meanwhile, Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School, suggested the UK was struggling to ramp up testing because of the strategy it had earlier adopted to the outbreak. 

She tweeted that she feared the government had given up ‘on containment too early’ due an apparent belief that most people in the UK would eventually get the disease. 

That resulted in ‘planning and preparing for unprecedented testing’ being ‘taken off the table’ which Ms Sridhar said she believed was the ‘wrong path’.

Germany has been conducting 500,000 tests a week and is aiming to hit 200,000 tests a day in the near future. 

Part of the difference between the UK and Germany is reportedly that the latter has more tests available domestically. 

There are also claims that a shipment of testing kit parts from the European mainland has been found to be contaminated with the virus, in another potential delay. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted this morning that the government was struggling with the logistical challenge of increasing testing, saying it was not a ‘trivial or straightforward’ task.

‘This is never going to be enough,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We always need to be pushing.’

Ministers boasted on Sunday that they had reached a target of 10,000 tests a day.  

However, while the capacity had been reached, the government is yet to actually carry out that number. The latest figures from Public Health England were 8,278 in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, which was actually down from 9,114 the previous day.

Professor Anthony Costello, an ex-director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) who is now based at University College London, this morning dismissed the idea that the UK does not have enough laboratory facilities to process tests. 

‘We need a policy of mass community testing as well as the blunt instrument of social distancing,’ he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. 

‘We need to do that because we want to arrow in on detecting cases and contact and quarantine. We need to have enough tests to protect our health workers… 

‘But most important when we want to loosen up the lockdown we want to have control over that. 

‘There will be much less disruption if we can do that rather than isolating the entire economy.’

He went on: ‘In answer to can we do it, we have 44 molecular virology labs in the UK. 

‘If they were doing 400 tests a day we would be up to Germany levels of testing and that is perfectly feasible.

Asked whether he was saying that the UK has the capacity but is just not organising it properly, Prof Costello said: ‘Yeah, correct. I don’t see why we cannot get these 44 molecular virology labs up and running, finding the cases and testing. 

‘PHE were slow and controlled, and they only allowed non-PHE labs to start testing two weeks ago. But that was after the strategy shift to stopping community tests.

‘We need to be like Korea…. their death rate is three per million and they have suppressed the virus.’ 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised countries like South Korea have for their wide-scale testing regimes, which have helped limit cases.  

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms on March 12, when Britain’s response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help. 

Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared just under a fortnight ago that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000. 

Routine testing is only just being offered to NHS staff, with 800 per day expected to get access to tests. There are fears that many will have been put at risk, amid complaints that they do not even have enough personal protection kit.  

A global shortage of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests has emerged as another setback in the UK’s plans to test more people.

Industry bosses say chemical reagents that are used in the test are in short supply around the world as countries have scrambled to test their citizens for COVID-19. 

Lab tests for the coronavirus work by regrowing a patient’s DNA in a lab and examining it to find traces of genetic material left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For this to work, technicians need a chemical called a reagent to trigger the chemical reaction which starts the process. 

There are various types of reagents which can be used in a COVID-19 test, supplied by different companies around the world, but they are in high demand everywhere. They are not unique to coronavirus and are the same reagents used in tests for illnesses such as flu.

The US has 10 different types of reagent listed in the priority list by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not clear whether the UK is using reagents manufactured on home soil or importing them. 

Some NHS labs have now resorted to make their own in ‘home brew’ situations so they can test patients, The Times reported.

Germany has also been leading the way on testing for individuals who have already been through the virus and emerged with immunity. Such checks could potentially allow people to be issued with certificates saying they are safe to go back to work – easing the lockdown crippling the economy.

The UK government has ordered 17.5million ‘antibody’ tests, but they have yet to go through clinical trials and it is not clear when they can start being used.

A study due to start in Germany in mid-April will see the blood of more than 100,000 volunteers tested for Covid-19 antibodies. 

The process will be repeated at regular intervals, with the sample scaling up to track the progress of the epidemic.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach. 

‘I’ve repeatedly called for more testing and contact tracing in the UK, and we should be looking at initiatives like this closely.’  

The scale of the problem facing the UK was underlined today with figures suggesting the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak could be 24 per cent higher than NHS figures show.

Patients who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates numbered 210 in England and Wales up to March 20, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

That was 24 per cent higher than the 170 deaths recorded by NHS England and Public Health Wales during the same time frame.

If the ratio has stayed true since that time, the true current number of fatalities could be around 1,739 instead of the official 1,408.

Michael Gove admits the UK must go ‘further, faster’ to increase its coronavirus testing operation after government admits it may not hit 25,000 a day target until end of next month

Michael Gove today admitted the government’s coronavirus testing operation must go ‘further, faster’ after Downing Street suggested a target of 25,000 daily checks may not be met until the end of next month. 

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said the lack of availability of crucial chemicals which are needed in the testing process was a ‘critical constraint’ on the UK’s efforts. 

He said Boris Johnson and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock were now working together to try to source the globally in-demand material that Britain needs. 

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Gove said: ‘While the rate of testing is increasing we must go further, faster. A critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing.

‘The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are working with companies worldwide to ensure that we get the material we need to increase tests of all kinds.’ 

Critics today labelled the UK’s efforts a ‘catastrophe’ and ‘dismal’ when compared to what is being done in Germany where 500,000 tests are being carried out every week. 

Downing Street had earlier hinted at Mr Johnsons’s apparent frustration at the slow progress on ramping up Britain’s capacity, with a spokesman saying he wants ‘as much progress to be made on this as possible’. 

The UK is currently managing just under 10,000 tests a day with the government having previously said it wants to get to 25,000 by the middle of April.

But today Number 10 said the timetable was ‘mid to late April’ – seemingly an admission that efforts have stalled. 

Politicians from different parties are now lining up to criticise the government’s approach while business chiefs are doing the same. 

Jeremy Hunt, the Tory former health secretary, said mass testing in the community must be carried out by the government while Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the efforts so far were an ’embarrassment’.

Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told MailOnline the government’s ‘dismal’ handling of the testing crisis will send vast numbers of British businesses to the wall – and delay the country’s economic recovery. 

Experts have insisted ‘organisation’ rather than a shortage of facilities is to blame for the painfully slow rise in checks.

However, there are also suggestions that the UK is struggling to obtain enough of the tests themselves, with Germany seemingly able to acquire them from domestic manufacturers while Britain is having to import them. 

It came amid reports that NHS England and NHS Wales ended up bidding against each other for testing equipment at the end of last week, prompting the four Home Nations to agree that all procurement will be done in Whitehall.

Michael Gove today said the UK must go 'further, faster' in ramping up its coronavirus testing efforts

Michael Gove today said the UK must go ‘further, faster’ in ramping up its coronavirus testing efforts

A nurse takes a swab from an NHS worker at a testing facility in Chessington yesterday

A nurse takes a swab from an NHS worker at a testing facility in Chessington yesterday

Germany has been conducting 500,000 tests a week and is aiming to hit 200,000 tests a day in the near future. 

Part of the difference between the UK and Germany is reportedly that the latter has more tests available domestically. 

There are also claims that a shipment of testing kit parts from the European mainland has been found to be contaminated with the virus, in another potential delay. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted this morning that the government was struggling with the logistical challenge of increasing testing, saying it was not a ‘trivial or straightforward’ task.

‘This is never going to be enough,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. We always need to be pushing.’

Ministers boasted on Sunday that they had reached a target of 10,000 tests a day.  

However, while the capacity has been reached, the government has yet to actually carry out that number. The latest figures from Public Health England were 8,278 in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, which was actually down from 9,114 the previous day.  

The numbers have sparked widespread concerns about the UK approach to testing. 

Mr Hunt, the chairman of the Health Select Committee, said it would be ‘very worrying’ if the UK chose not to follow the lead of the likes of Germany and South Korea. 

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He said mass testing allows for ‘a lot less’ disruption to daily lives because those who have the disease can be isolated and prevented from passing the virus on.  

He said: ‘It is internationally proven as the most effective way of breaking the chain of transmission.

‘So however difficult it is to source the reagents, to ramp up the capacity of laboratories up and down the country, it is essential that mass community testing is part of our national strategy.’

Mr Farage told MailOnline: ‘Testing is a catastrophe. It’s an embarrassment. We do not appear to have done anything in six weeks to get ourselves in a better position on this.

‘If I was an NHS frontline worker waiting week after week after week for this I would be furious.’

He added: ‘70,000 tests a day in Germany, a million tests now conducted in America, and we in six weeks have managed to do as many tests as the Germans do in two days.

‘Everybody wants to believe in their leader during a crisis and everyone has given Boris the benefit of the doubt… I think public opinion is beginning to ask very serious questions.’

Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told MailOnline that the government’s ‘dismal’ handling of the testing crisis will send vast numbers of British businesses to the wall – and delay the country’s economic recovery.

The gym mogul and former Dragons’ Den star said: ‘The Government must get on top of testing immediately. The longer we are in lockdown the more businesses will go bust. 

‘My business hands over £39million to the Government every year in VAT, PAYE and corporation tax. As long as we are closed they get nothing.

‘Their handling of the testing issue has been dismal to say the least.’         

CHEMICAL REAGENTS: NECESSARY FOR TESTING BUT IN HIGH GLOBAL DEMAND 

A global shortage of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests has emerged as another setback in the UK’s plans to test more people.

Industry bosses say chemical reagents that are used in the test are in short supply around the world as countries have scrambled to test their citizens for COVID-19. 

Lab tests for the coronavirus work by regrowing a patient’s DNA in a lab and examining it to find traces of genetic material left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For this to work, technicians need a chemical called a reagent to trigger the chemical reaction which starts the process. 

There are various types of reagents which can be used in a COVID-19 test, supplied by different companies around the world, but they are in high demand everywhere. They are not unique to coronavirus and are the same reagents used in tests for illnesses such as flu.

The US has 10 different types of reagent listed in the priority list by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not clear whether the UK is using reagents manufactured on home soil or importing them. 

Some NHS labs have now resorted to make their own in ‘home brew’ situations so they can test patients, The Times reported.

Officials are now scrambling to see if there are alternatives to their first choice, according to the newspaper, and are also trying to shore up supplies of swabs, which are vital for tests.

CEO of pharmaceutical company Roche, Severin Schwan, said ‘demand is outstripping supply’ for the reagents. ‘Widespread testing is simply not possible,’ he added.

While the Professional Association of Laboratory Medics in Germany said: ‘The materials required for testing – sample kits, materials for extracting samples, and reagents – are becoming scarce’.

The Australian Medical Association sounded the alarm there two weeks ago, when it said some parts of the government had failed to stockpile the right reagents, The Guardian reported.

It said global demand was ‘exceeding supply’ and that ‘there are particular concerns around supplies of swabs and DNA extraction kits’.

Professor Anthony Costello, an ex-director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) who is now based at University College London, dismissed the idea that the UK does not have enough laboratory facilities to process the tests. 

‘We need a policy of mass community testing as well as the blunt instrument of social distancing,’ he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. 

‘We need to do that because we want to arrow in on detecting cases and contact and quarantine. We need to have enough tests to protect our health workers… 

‘But most important when we want to loosen up the lockdown we want to have control over that. 

‘There will be much less disruption if we can do that rather than isolating the entire economy.’

He went on: ‘In answer to can we do it, we have 44 molecular virology labs in the UK. 

‘If they were doing 400 tests a day we would be up to Germany levels of testing and that is perfectly feasible.

Asked whether he was saying that the UK has the capacity but is just not organising it properly, Prof Costello said: ‘Yeah, correct. I don’t see why we cannot get these 44 molecular virology labs up and running, finding the cases and testing. 

‘PHE were slow and controlled, and they only allowed non-PHE labs to start testing two weeks ago. But that was after the strategy shift to stopping community tests.

‘We need to be like Korea…. their death rate is three per million and they have suppressed the virus.’ 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised countries like South Korea have for their wide-scale testing regimes, which have helped limit cases.  

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms on March 12, when Britain’s response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help. 

Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared just under a fortnight ago that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000. 

Routine testing is only just being offered to NHS staff, with 800 per day expected to get access to tests. There are fears that many will have been put at risk, amid complaints that they do not even have enough personal protection kit.  

A global shortage of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests has emerged as another setback in the UK’s plans to test more people.

Industry bosses say chemical reagents that are used in the test are in short supply around the world as countries have scrambled to test their citizens for COVID-19. 

Lab tests for the coronavirus work by regrowing a patient’s DNA in a lab and examining it to find traces of genetic material left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For this to work, technicians need a chemical called a reagent to trigger the chemical reaction which starts the process. 

There are various types of reagents which can be used in a COVID-19 test, supplied by different companies around the world, but they are in high demand everywhere. They are not unique to coronavirus and are the same reagents used in tests for illnesses such as flu.

Germany is set to start mass immunity testing within weeks 

Germany has also been leading the way on testing for individuals who have already been through the virus and emerged with immunity. Such checks could potentially allow people to be issued with certificates saying they are safe to go back to work – easing the lockdown crippling the economy.

The UK government has ordered 17.5million ‘antibody’ tests, but they have yet to go through clinical trials and it is not clear when they can start being used.

A study due to start in Germany in mid-April will see the blood of more than 100,000 volunteers tested for Covid-19 antibodies. 

The process will be repeated at regular intervals, with the sample scaling up to track the progress of the epidemic.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach. 

‘I’ve repeatedly called for more testing and contact tracing in the UK, and we should be looking at initiatives like this closely.’ 

The US has 10 different types of reagent listed in the priority list by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not clear whether the UK is using reagents manufactured on home soil or importing them. 

Some NHS labs have now resorted to make their own in ‘home brew’ situations so they can test patients, The Times reported.

Germany has also been leading the way on testing for individuals who have already been through the virus and emerged with immunity. Such checks could potentially allow people to be issued with certificates saying they are safe to go back to work – easing the lockdown crippling the economy.

The UK government has ordered 17.5million ‘antibody’ tests, but they have yet to go through clinical trials and it is not clear when they can start being used.

A study due to start in Germany in mid-April will see the blood of more than 100,000 volunteers tested for Covid-19 antibodies. 

The process will be repeated at regular intervals, with the sample scaling up to track the progress of the epidemic.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach. 

‘I’ve repeatedly called for more testing and contact tracing in the UK, and we should be looking at initiatives like this closely.’  

The scale of the problem facing the UK was underlined today with figures suggesting the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak could be 24 per cent higher than NHS figures show.

Patients who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates numbered 210 in England and Wales up to March 20, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

That was 24 per cent higher than the 170 deaths recorded by NHS England and Public Health Wales during the same time frame.

If the ratio has stayed true since that time, the true current number of fatalities could be around 1,739 instead of the official 1,408. 

Lord Hague today warned Mr Johnson he must show UK businesses a ‘way out’ of the coronavirus crisis by the end of April – or risk thousands of firms permanently closing their doors. 

Lord Hague said many businesses will choose to shut down if they are not given ‘hope’ in the form of a government plan for what will happen after the current state of lockdown ends.

The former foreign secretary said the government’s blueprint for recovery must include a ‘massive and compulsory’ testing programme so the UK is better able to withstand future outbreaks of the deadly disease.  

He said the ability to test and trace people in the way that South Korea has been doing will be key because it will give ministers the ability to contain the spread and allow businesses to stay open. 

The ex-Tory leader said a failure to pursue massive testing capacity would likely result in the UK facing an economic depression rather than just a recession. 

And he called for one minister to be put in charge of overseeing the development of the future action plan so they are not distracted by day-to-day events.



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