The number of people to have died in hospitals in the United Kingdom after testing positive for coronavirus has surpassed 20,000, according to official data.
The latest figures on Saturday showed that the UK had become the fifth country in the world to pass the grim milestone, but its actual toll could be much higher when deaths in the community are taken into account, particularly at care homes.
“It’s a very sad day for the nation; 20,000 deaths is clearly 20,000 too many,” Stephen Powis, the medical director of the National Health Service (NHS) in England, told a news conference on Saturday.
“This is a deeply tragic and moving moment,” added UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Earlier, the Department of Health said in a statement that 20,319 patients infected with the coronavirus had died in hospitals, with the country recording 813 new deaths in the last 24 hours.
Overall, more than 148,000 people have tested positive, out of almost 518,000 tests carried out.
The announcement came some six weeks after the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said on March 17 that keeping the death toll below 20,000 would be “a good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get with this outbreak”.
This target was later also repeated by Powis, who said the country would have done well if it came through with fewer than 20,000 deaths.
Earlier on Saturday, it was reported that for the second day in a row, coronavirus tests available through a government website ran out before the end of the day.
The website was set up for healthcare staff and key workers as the government aims to reach 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, a target local media reported authorities were likely to miss.
The BBC reported that home-testing kits ran out within 15 minutes and appointments at drive-through clinics were fully booked within an hour.
Questions over lockdown
Officials also urged people to comply with the lockdown, in place since March 23, and stay at home as the weather becomes increasingly warm and sunny. The lockdown was extended on April 16 and is due for review on May 7.
The government has been under pressure to relax physical distancing rules, but Home Secretary Patel said ministers would not yet give a date for any relaxation in the regulations.
“We’ve made a great deal of progress, but actually we’re not out of the woods yet, we really are not,” she said.
There have been growing calls from the opposition parties, and figures within the ruling Conservative party for the government to provide more information on how the country will exit the lockdown.
Saturday’s toll was an increase on the 684 deaths reported the previous day and comes after the government claimed the virus had hit its peak.
However, there was some optimism since those diagnosed as having contracted the virus fell by 473 to 4,913, according to the same health department figures.
University of Oxford analysis also showed that the numbers dying in England may be on a downward spiral as it said a third of the 711 additional deaths recorded in the latest government figures on Saturday occurred more than a week ago.
The other four countries to have exceeded the threshold are the United States, Italy, Spain and France.
The pandemic has killed some 200,000 people, with total infections exceeding 2.85 million, while more than 802,000 have recovered, according to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University.