UK appears to be on track for one of the largest deaths of COVID-19 in Europe

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Britain is on track to record one of the worst coronavirus deaths in Europe, after data released on Tuesday showed that the death toll had exceeded 24,000 nine days ago.

One day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about the successful fight against the epidemic, new figures show that the week ending April 17 was Britain’s deadliest since the start of comparable records in 1993.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that 21,284 people died in England on April 17 with references to COVID-19 on their death certificates. With figures from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the total death toll in the UK was at least 24,000 as of April 19.

“The UK will be among the nations most affected in the initial wave,” said Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“With the most optimistic views on the amount of immunity that could be generated, it still would not be close to having enough to be able to return to normal,” he told Reuters.

Unlike the number of deaths in hospitals announced daily by the government, the new figures include deaths in community settings, such as nursing homes where the total number of deaths has tripled in a few weeks.

Overall, Tuesday’s figures for deaths from COVID-19 in England and Wales through April 17 were more than 50% higher than the government-announced daily death toll from hospitals.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday that it was still too early to ease social distancing. Johnson returned to Downing Street this week after recovering from COVID-19 (Stefan Rousseau / AFP / Getty Images)

The figures underscore the magnitude of the challenge Johnson faces as he returns to work after recovering from COVID-19, respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, and the dangers of releasing the British lock too soon.

He warned on Monday that it was still too dangerous to release tough measures wreaking havoc on the economy for fear of a second deadly epidemic.

UK to overtake France

The ONS bases its figures on references to COVID-19 in death certificates, including suspected cases rather than those that have actually tested positive.

Scotland reported 1,616 deaths last week mentioning COVID-19 on the death certificate on 19 April. Northern Ireland recorded 276 on April 17. 1,016 others died in Wales.

The death toll of more than 24,000 in the UK places it among the most affected in Europe, surpassing France – which also counts deaths in nursing homes – by around 5,000 at the time.

A member of the public walks past an exhibition of panels erected by local artists on Tuesday in London. As measures of social distancing continue, data suggest that the death toll in Britain is close to that of Spain or Italy, the most affected countries in Europe. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

Britain’s true record may be closer to Spain or even Italy, the most affected countries in Europe, although their reporting of deaths outside the hospital is uneven, from so that exact comparisons are difficult.

The latest daily figures released by the UK Department of Health for deaths from COVID-19 in hospitals reached 21,092 on Monday.

Including all causes of death, 22,351 people died in England and Wales in the 16th week of 2020, the highest total since comparable records began in 1993, the ONS said.

It was 11,854 more than the average for the week. Since only 8,758 cases mentioned COVID-19 in death certificates, even the complete ONS data may underestimate the true picture.

Last week, a Financial Times analysis of the gap between the significant increase in all deaths and those who mentioned the coronavirus established the true death toll in Britain at over 40,000.

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