The number of deaths from coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose by 27 percent in the space of a day, according to new figures on Tuesday that a senior cabinet minister described as shocking and disturbing.
The government said 1,789 people had died in hospitals from coronavirus as of 16:00 GMT on Monday, an increase of 381 from Sunday, the largest rise in absolute terms yet.
“The increase in the number of deaths is deeply shocking, disturbing [and] moving,” Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said at a news conference, adding that it was not possible to predict when fatalities would peak.
“It depends on the actions of all of us,” he added. “We can delay that peak; we can flatten the curve through our own particular actions.”
The UK initially took a gradual approach to containing the virus compared with European countries such as Italy.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million people could die. Johnson has since become the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus.
The UK lags behind Italy, Spain and France in terms of the number of deaths, but they are still doubling approximately every 3.5 days.
While that is similar to the trajectory of Italy – the world’s worst-hit country – when it was reporting similar numbers of deaths just over two weeks ago, British officials said on Tuesday that they saw tentative reasons for optimism.
Official figures showed confirmed cases rose 14 percent between Monday and Tuesday to 25,150 as of Tuesday at 08:00 GMT, the third day of increases near that rate – slowing from about 22-24 percent last Thursday and Friday.
“We’re not out of the woods, we’re very much in the woods, and it’s really important that we keep complying with those instructions,” said Stephen Powis, director of the National Health Service in England.
“But as you can see, the number of infections is not rising as rapidly as it was. So, green shoots, but only green shoots, and we must not be complacent, and we must not take our foot off the pedal.”
In Tuesday’s daily news briefing held by a government minister, Gove said that mass-producing testing kits had been made more difficult as there was now a shortage of the relevant chemicals needed.
But journalist Robert Peston, the political editor for ITV, reported the UK’s Chemical Industries Association had said there was no such shortage.
The government also announced the first medical ventilators which the UK has recently ordered from businesses would be ready this weekend and available to the health service next week.
The UK government has been criticised for failing to join a European Union-wide procurement scheme for ventilators, instead asking leading British engineering firms to design new medical devices and repurpose their production lines to build them.
London said it had not joined because it missed the invitation in an email mixup.
The EU launched a joint procurement procedure on March 17 to buy ventilators on behalf of 25 member states, in a bid to cut prices and reduce competition among EU nations seeking the machines – which help coronavirus patients breathe and are in short supply around the globe.
The UK, which is entitled to participate in such schemes under an 11-month transition deal since leaving the EU in January, did not join it.
That attracted criticism at home from opponents who accused the government of prioritising “Brexit over breathing” – so determined to act independently of the bloc that it would risk public health in the coronavirus crisis.
An EU spokesman said last week that British officials had attended several meetings at which the scheme was discussed, and the UK had been given a chance to say if it wanted to be included.