U.K. COVID-19 death toll surpasses 32,000, making it deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe

Tek

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A plucky Second World War veteran approaching his own centenary leans on his walker and marches across his garden 100 times and raises millions for Britain's beleaguered National Health Service (NHS).

A larger-than-life Prime Minister Boris Johnson boasts of shaking hands with coronavirus patients and later falls gravely ill to the virus himself, recovering just in time to be with his fiancée for the birth of a bouncing Downing Street baby.

The Queen makes a rare address to the nation, offering comfort, urging people to stay at home and evoking that wartime can-do spirit with a promise that blue skies will again return to this land.

So shiny and almost fable-like are these strands of Britain's encounter with COVID-19 that they can sometimes seem to blur the horrors at the heart of it. Even though the strands are themselves a product of it.

British media reported Tuesday that more than 32,000 Britons have now died from the virus, about a third of them believed to be in long-term care homes.

That number, which is based on data from the Office for National Statistics, the National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and exceeds the official Department of Health toll of 28,734, far surpasses what government scientists called their "best case scenario" of 20,000 COVID-19 deaths.

With Britain now having overtaken Italy, where around 29,000 people have died of COVID-19, as the country with the deadliest outbreak in Europe, Johnson's government is facing intense scrutiny over its actions in the early days of the pandemic.

"It just wasn't acted upon and taken as a serious enough threat," said Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh.

Viruses 'exploit delays'

Sridhar describes a government still very much consumed with Brexit, which finally occurred on January 31, a personal victory for Johnson, who had won a landslide election victory in December on a pledge to "Get Brexit done."

Johnson is reported to have missed five meetings on the coronavirus threat by Britain's special security committee early in February and March, and eight calls or meetings with European Union leaders about it.

"I think the decision was made quite early in March to give up on containment and to assume that this virus was unstoppable and that everyone would get it."

The government advice to the vast majority of the British people was to go about their business "as usual," and on March 3 the prime minister gave a now-infamous news conference boasting that he was still shaking hands and had recently done so with coronavirus patients in hospital.
https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/coronavirustracker/
His tone changed on March 12, a day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. He emerged from Downing Street to warn that "many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."

Johnson didn't impose a lockdown for another 11 days.

Sridhar says that was a mistake. "What we know with viruses is they exploit delays every day ... It's just waiting for [this kind of] lack of strong leadership, because then it just explodes and it's very hard to get a handle on it again."

As of Tuesday, more than 190,000 people in the U.K. had tested positive for the virus.

 
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