The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the United Kingdom has closed in on the 10,000-mark after health officials reported another 917 hospital deaths on Saturday.
The UK has now reported 9,875 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the fifth-highest national number globally, and Saturday’s increase was the second day running that deaths increased by more than 900.
Almost 80,000 people in the UK have tested positive for the virus, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in the early stages of recovery in a hospital ward after spending three nights in intensive care.
“The prime minister continues to make very good progress,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
On Friday, his office said Johnson was back on his feet while British newspapers reported he was watching films and reading letters sent by pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who herself has suffered COVID-19 symptoms.
The UK imposed a lockdown three weeks ago in a bid to curb the spread of the virus and ministers have been pleading with Britons to observe the ban on social gatherings over the Easter weekend.
“People have got to stay at home unless there is a very good reason not to,” health minister Matt Hancock said.
That message came through as the government has come under increasing pressure to detail how long the strict curbs on movement would last, with the shutdown meaning many businesses are unable to operate.
Ministers have said the UK needed to pass the peak of the outbreak before changes could be made, and Hancock said although the number of hospital admissions had started to flatten out, there was not enough evidence yet to have confidence they were past the worst.
“Our judgement is we’re not there yet. We haven’t seen a flattening enough to be able to say that we’ve reached the peak,” he told BBC radio.
The death rate is also expected to increase over the next few days, health officials have cautioned, but they say they are hopeful the lockdown will mean that the overall number of deaths will be below 20,000.
The government has come under fire for its initial response and a lack of preparedness, and there was criticism on Saturday from doctors and nurses who said they were having to treat patients without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.
Among those to have died after testing positive for COVID-19 are 19 healthcare workers, including 11 doctors.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said medics were facing a “heart-breaking” decision over whether to treat patients without proper protection and so put themselves at risk.