UK coronavirus death toll passes 47,000 amid mounting criticism of move to hold sports events at start of epidemic

Ross Lydall, NIcholas Cecil
UK coronavirus death toll passes 47,000 amid mounting criticism of move to hold sports events at start of epidemic

The number of coronavirus deaths passed 47,000 in the UK as ministers faced growing accusations today that people may have died because of the decision to hold this year’s Cheltenham Festival and a Liverpool Champions League game.

As the epidemic took off in the UK in March, major sporting events were still being allowed by the Government despite being cancelled in other countries.

This now appears to be among a series of blunders which has led to the UK having one of the worst death tolls so far in Europe. Ministers are also being warned against further relaxing the lockdown on June 1 if a full “test, trace and isolate” system is not in place.

The Office for National Statistics announced today that 42,173 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in England and Wales up to May 15.

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Official figures last week showed 3,546 deaths involving Covid-19 were registered in Scotland up to May 17, while for Northern Ireland the number was 664 deaths up to May 20.

Together these figures mean that so far 46,383 deaths have been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.

A further 964 hospital patients in England who had tested positive for Covid-19 died between May 16 and May 24, according to figures published by NHS England.

The real death toll from coronavirus is believed to be even higher with the number of “excess deaths” during the epidemic now 53,960 when compared with the five-year fatality average.

Ministers have been accused of being too slow in ordering the lockdown which may have cost thousands of lives, though they have insisted the right decisions were taken at the right time.

New research now appears to possibly link spikes in cases to both the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid game in early March.

Professor Tim Spector, whose team at King’s College London have followed more 1.5 million people self-reporting on Covid-19 symptoms, said rates of cases locally “increased several-fold”, adding, “so much so that both areas became key hotspots in the UK”.

Figures come from the Covid-19 Symptom Study show an estimated five to six per cent of the population, aged 20 to 69, having symptoms in those two regions towards the end of March, according to the BBC.

Professor Spector said: “Sporting events should have been shut down at least a week earlier because they’ll have caused increased suffering and death that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred.”

In a statement, the Government said: “There are many factors that could influence the number of cases in a particular area, including population density, age, general health, and the position of an area on the pandemic curve.”

The ONS figures also showed more than 11,000 people with coronavirus have died in care homes, with 3,400 more of their residents with Covid-19 passing away in hospitals. Separate NHS figures showed today that fewer than 100 people have died with coronavirus in London hospitals in the last week.

The weekly death toll is the lowest since before lockdown was imposed on March 23. Five deaths were announced on Saturday and four yesterday, taking the total for the week to 90. However there were problems in data collection from hospitals for a period on Sunday and weekend figures often fail to report all recent deaths.

The total number of Covid-19 deaths in London hospitals is 5,882. Other positive signs include a fall below 1,000 in patients with covid being treated in hospitals. There were 961 on Saturday and 974 on Sunday. At the peak of the virus in London, there were 4,813 people in hospital.

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