News, Culture & Society

Britain breaches grim 20,000 death milestone: Another 813 deaths are announced in the UK 

Britain has announced a further 813 coronavirus victims today, taking the total number of fatalities in the UK to 20,319.

The grim milestone – which also saw the number of people testing positive for coronavirus rise by 4,913 to 148,377 – came as the coronavirus lockdown continued into its fifth weekend and the government faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the outbreak.

In reality, deaths in the UK from coronavirus probably topped 20,000 several days ago because the figure does not include deaths in care homes, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates could account for half of all deaths in Europe.

Home Secretary Priti Patel urged the country to ‘stay strong’ at the government’s daily press update today but said it was not the time to lift the lockdown.

She said: ‘Our instruction remains clear, people should stay at home, protect the NHS (National Health Service) and save lives.

‘We know that people are frustrated but we are not out of danger. It is imperative that we continue to follow the rules.’

Ms Patel said the entire Government was working towards returning the country to normal, but said its five tests must be met before the lockdown can be lifted.

She said: ‘We must be sure we can continue to protect the NHS, that there is a sustained and consistent fall in the daily rates of death, that the data shows the rate of infection decreases, that the operational challenges are met.

‘And of course that there is no risk of a second peak of infections. Until then, we all have a role to play in pulling our country out of this crisis.’

She added: ‘So I urge you all to stay strong and embrace that spirit of national unity by continuing to follow the advice – to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’.

Medical Director for NHS England Professor Stephen Powis also renewed an appeal for people to get medical help when they need it, and to be not be put off by the epidemic.

He said people experiencing chest pain, a sick child that is not improving or a pregnant woman whose baby is moving less than usual should contact the NHS.

‘For many of these conditions, fast diagnosis and treatment is absolutely crucial,’ he told the briefing. So it’s really important not to delay. The NHS is still there for you.’ 

The grim 20,000 milestone – which also saw the number of people testing positive for coronavirus rise by 4,913 to 148,377 – came as the coronavirus lockdown continued into its fifth weekend and the Government faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the outbreak

A medical worker hands an essential worker a testing kit for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 at a drive-in testing facility in east London today

A medical worker hands an essential worker a testing kit for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 at a drive-in testing facility in east London today

The true number of coronavirus victims in the UK may still be 41 per cent higher than daily Government and NHS statistics are letting on.

Weekly data published for National Statistics (ONS) showed at least 13,121 people had died in England and Wales by April 10.

Department of Health statistics had, by that date, announced only 9,288 fatalities – the backdated deaths increased the total by 41.2 per cent. That suggests the death toll of 20,319 confirmed today could in reality be  closer to 28,000.

Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia and adviser to the WHO, warned the UK was on course to having one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in Europe.

He said today: ‘Our deaths are increasing more rapidly than any other country really apart from the US. But the US is still a long way behind us in terms of deaths per one million of the population.’

Last month, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs the hope was to keep the death toll to under 20,000 – an ambition that was later echoed by NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis, who said the UK would have ‘done very well in this epidemic’ if deaths remained below that figure.

Sir Patrick appeared before the Commons Health Select Committee on March 17, when the UK death toll stood at 71.

Asked whether it was hoped that deaths could potentially get below 20,000, he said: ‘That is the hope, that we can get it down to that. To put that into perspective, every year in seasonal flu the number of deaths is thought to be 8,000.

‘If we can get numbers down to 20,000 and below, that’s a good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get to with this outbreak.’

Britain becomes the fifth country to pass the milestone – behind the USA, Italy, France and Spain. 

The news comes amid growing calls for the government to relax ‘stay at home’ rules on lockdown as it considers allowing people to gathering together in ‘bubbles’ – despite the number of deaths remaining high.

There is also growing concern over the ‘collateral’ damage caused by coronavirus as health officials are worried many people are not seeking treatment because they fear contracting Covid-19, thereby jeopardising their survival and potentially becoming a forgotten victim of the virus.

And a new study revealed today coronavirus patients who get put on a ventilator have just a 34 per cent chance of survival.

The number of deaths does not include deaths in the wider community, such as in care homes, which means the true toll will be higher by several thousand at least. 

But Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the true figure could already be double that amount.

‘The World Health Organisation said yesterday that about half of all deaths in Europe are occurring in residence of elderly care homes,’ he said.

‘We know for a fact the figures reported every day are an underestimate, possibly a significant underestimate of the total number of deaths.’

The UK is well on track to hit 30,000 deaths in hospital, perhaps even 40,000 before the pandemic is brought under control, he said.

‘We are undoubtedly going to have one of the highest death rates in Europe,’ Dr Hunter added.

It comes as:

  • It is estimated that as many as 5,000 people normally expected in casualty in the same time period have simply not turned up
  • One of Britain’s most experienced cancer doctors, Karol Sikora, warned in the Daily Mail this week that our healthcare system has abandoned its ‘bread and butter’ work of routine operations, tests and scans.
  • Cancer Research UK has warned that 2,700 cancers a week are currently going undiagnosed
  • In addition, ambulance emergency response times are their worst on record, causing heart attack victims to wait two hours on average, sometimes with fatal consequences
  • And on top of all this, many who are seriously ill and awaiting life-saving operations or treatment are being turned away by doctors who fear their patients may catch the virus on the wards of our beleaguered hospitals

NHS England confirmed a further 711 new deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 18,084.  

Patients were aged between 34 and 100 years old and 87 of the 711 patients – aged between 34 and 90 years old – had no known underlying health condition.  

The figures published by NHS England show April 8 continues to have the highest number for the most hospital deaths occurring on a single day, with a current total of 855. 

A medical worker takes a swab at a drive-in COVID-19 testing centre at Chessington World of Adventures Resort theme park

A medical worker takes a swab at a drive-in COVID-19 testing centre at Chessington World of Adventures Resort theme park

In Scotland, a total of 1,231 patients have died after testing positive for Covid-19, a rise of 47 from 1,184 on Friday, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

The number of people who have tested positive for the virus north of the border is 10,051, up 354 from Friday’s figure of 9,697.

The figures published on the Scottish Government’s website confirmed 1,748 patients are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a rise of 38 from 1,710 previous day, while 140 of these patients were in intensive care, down one.

And in Wales, a further 23 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of deaths there to 774, health officials said. 

Public Health Wales said a further 299 people had tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 8,900. 

Coronavirus patients who get put on a ventilator have just a 34% chance of survival, new study shows 

Coronavirus patients who get put on a ventilator have just a 34 per cent chance of survival, a new study has revealed.  

The figures come from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) and are based on a sample of 6,720 critically-ill coronavirus patients.

Of those who required advanced respiratory support – known as invasive ventilation – just under two-thirds of patients died.

Data showed that 1,744 (65.4 per cent) died after requiring mechanical ventilation in critical care, while some 923 (34.6 per cent) on the same treatment were discharged.

Data showed that 1,744 (65.4 per cent) died after requiring mechanical ventilation in critical care, while some 923 (34.6 per cent) on the same treatment were discharged (pictured, ventilators in Oxfordshire ready to be shipped to NHS hospitals)

Data showed that 1,744 (65.4 per cent) died after requiring mechanical ventilation in critical care, while some 923 (34.6 per cent) on the same treatment were discharged (pictured, ventilators in Oxfordshire ready to be shipped to NHS hospitals) 

For those who required basic respiratory support – such as oxygen through a face mask, which is known as non-invasive ventilation – 894 patients (81.9 per cent) recovered and some 198 (18.1 per cent) died.

The research also found that, of the 4,078 patients where an outcome was known, some 2,067 have died, while 2,011 were discharged.

This mortality rate of 50.7 per cent among all people admitted to intensive care is slightly lower than in ICNARC’s last report at the start of April – which put the death rate at 51.6 per cent.

The report analysed data on patients with confirmed Covid-19 from 286 NHS critical care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking part in the ICNARC programme, up to 4pm on April 23. 

Despite the number of deaths remaining high, there have been growing calls for government to relax ‘stay at home’ rules on lockdown as the government considers allowing people to gathering together in ‘bubbles’.

Britain has already emerged from its enforced hibernation to test lockdown rules this weekend.

Britons are hitting the roads again today as new data shows traffic congestion has surged from the start of the month.  

Walking in London has picked up in last three days alone – according to Apple Map’s most recent ‘Covid-19 mobility trends’ data – which shows a sharp increase in human traffic. 

Pictures this morning show busy scenes at B&Q stores and parks as people soak up the sunshine, while data from sat nav makers TomTom the AA has also shown an increase in car trips.

The new statistics emerge as former Chancellor Philip Hammond today called on the Government to publish an exit strategy and restart the economy, urging MPs to face the ‘reality’ that the UK must get back to work while people are still suffering with Covid-19.  

In a stark message this morning, he warned the economy ‘will not survive’ and said the country could not afford to wait until a vaccine had become available before resuming more normal economic activity. 

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to return to Downing Street next week after recuperating from the virus, Mr Hammond said he hoped it would mark a ‘clear step change’ in the Government’s response to the crisis. 

This comes as it was revealed today that ministers are looking at whether to relax the strict ‘stay at home’ advice to let small groups of households ‘cluster’ together. 

It would allow a ‘bubble’ of up to ten close family members to meet for meals, or enable friends to share childcare. It could also allow couples who do not live together to see each other.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she is also considering relaxing the lockdown rules. 

But today, Priti Patel will read the riot act to the rule-breakers ignoring the coronavirus lockdown after scenes of crowds pouring into public places sent alarm bells ringing through government. 

It comes as a new study has revealed today coronavirus patients who get put on a ventilator have just a 34 per cent chance of survival.

The figures come from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) and are based on a sample of 6,720 critically-ill coronavirus patients.

People line up in their cars at a drive through testing centre in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey today

People line up in their cars at a drive through testing centre in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey today

Get patients back into Britain’s deserted hospitals: New figures show number of people visiting UK’s A&E wards down by half this month 

The NHS is launching a new campaign to make sure people seek urgent care during a medical emergency after visits to A&E dropped by almost 50 per cent this month.

Health officials are worried many people are not seeking treatment because they fear contracting Covid-19, thereby jeopardising their survival and potentially becoming collateral damage to the virus.

Recent research found four in 10 people are too worried about being a burden on the NHS to seek help from their GP.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens stressed the NHS is still there for non-Covid patients who might be suffering from a stroke, heart attack, and other killer conditions.

It is predicted there will be one million fewer visits to A&E this April compared to 2.1 million visits recorded over the same period last year.

Prof Powis said there were concerns about fewer people seeking medical help for non-coronavirus related issues.

Asked if lives are being lost because people are not presenting themselves to doctors, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘It would be true to say we are concerned about that.

‘Clearly we have seen the reduction in A&E attendances.

‘If everybody is self-isolating, there may be less infections being transmitted other than Covid-19.

‘What we absolutely want people to do is if you do have a condition, particularly an emergency that is not coronavirus, you should not be afraid of accessing healthcare services.’

Senior clinicians from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and medical health charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association are also worried.

Photographs have revealed the deserted casualty departments at two of our biggest hospitals.  

The number of people presenting at A&E with suspected heart attacks has halved since the beginning of March, from 300 to 150 a day.

It is estimated that as many as 5,000 people normally expected in casualty in the same time period have simply not turned up.

One of Britain’s most experienced cancer doctors, Karol Sikora, warned in the Daily Mail this week that our healthcare system has abandoned its ‘bread and butter’ work of routine operations, tests and scans. 

Cancer Research UK has warned that 2,700 cancers a week are currently going undiagnosed.

In addition, ambulance emergency response times are their worst on record, causing heart attack victims to wait two hours on average, sometimes with fatal consequences.

And on top of all this, many who are seriously ill and awaiting life-saving operations or treatment are being turned away by doctors who fear their patients may catch the virus on the wards of our beleaguered hospitals.

Of those who required advanced respiratory support – known as invasive ventilation – just under two-thirds of patients died.

Data showed that 1,744 (65.4 per cent) died after requiring mechanical ventilation in critical care, while some 923 (34.6 per cent) on the same treatment were discharged.

For those who required basic respiratory support – such as oxygen through a face mask, which is known as non-invasive ventilation – 894 patients (81.9 per cent) recovered and some 198 (18.1 per cent) died.

The research also found that, of the 4,078 patients where an outcome was known, some 2,067 have died, while 2,011 were discharged.

This mortality rate of 50.7 per cent among all people admitted to intensive care is slightly lower than in ICNARC’s last report at the start of April – which put the death rate at 51.6 per cent.

The report analysed data on patients with confirmed Covid-19 from 286 NHS critical care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking part in the ICNARC programme, up to 4pm on April 23.

According to ICNARC data, one in five Covid-19 patients under the age of 40 have died after being admitted to intensive care.

The latest report found that, in the 16-39 age group, 66 patients (21.6 per cent) died in critical care, while some 240 (78.4 per cent) in this age group were discharged.

The mortality rate is currently higher for men and increases with age, the data shows.

The largest number of deaths were among those aged between 60-69, at 701 patients, followed by the 70-79 age bracket, with 617 reported.

The data by ICNARC, which includes information on age, gender and ethnicity, now also looks at the index of multiple deprivation, which ranks the poorest neighbourhoods by postcode.

Research shows that 1,591 (24.7 per cent) of 6,720 critically-ill coronavirus patients were from the most deprived areas – compared with 14.8 per cent from the least deprived.

The largest number of Covid-19 patients remains in London, with 2,199 being managed by the three London Operational Delivery Networks – the system of co-ordinating patient care across the capital.

Critical care units involved in the initiative are asked to notify ICNARC as soon as they have an admission with Covid-19 and provide data at different points of their treatment.

It comes as the NHS is set to launch a new campaign to make sure people seek urgent care during a medical emergency after visits to A&E dropped by almost 50 per cent this month.

Health officials are worried many people are not seeking treatment because they fear contracting Covid-19, thereby jeopardising their survival and potentially becoming collateral damage to the virus.

Recent research found four in 10 people are too worried about being a burden on the NHS to seek help from their GP.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens stressed the NHS is still there for non-Covid patients who might be suffering from a stroke, heart attack, and other killer conditions.

It is predicted there will be one million fewer visits to A&E this April compared to 2.1 million visits recorded over the same period last year.

The total number of A&E attendances in March this year was significantly lower than the year before

The total number of A&E attendances in March this year was significantly lower than the year before

Prof Powis said there were concerns about fewer people seeking medical help for non-coronavirus related issues.

Asked if lives are being lost because people are not presenting themselves to doctors, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘It would be true to say we are concerned about that.

‘Clearly we have seen the reduction in A&E attendances.

‘If everybody is self-isolating, there may be less infections being transmitted other than Covid-19.

‘What we absolutely want people to do is if you do have a condition, particularly an emergency that is not coronavirus, you should not be afraid of accessing healthcare services.’

Care homes bosses blame climbing death toll on ‘reckless stiff broom’ policy to send back hundreds of elderly coronavirus patients to free up hospital beds 

Care home bosses have blamed the sector’s soaring death toll on government guidance telling hospitals to discharge elderly residents to free up beds. 

The chilling warning came in the wake of a government document which advises hospitals, ‘to free up NHS capacity via rapid discharge into the community and reducing planned care.’

Abbotswood Nursing Home in Ballasalla (pictured) had its license suspended on April 13 after nearly 40 residents tested positive for coronavirus

Abbotswood Nursing Home in Ballasalla (pictured) had its license suspended on April 13 after nearly 40 residents tested positive for coronavirus

The plan, drafted on March 17, told NHS hospitals that ‘timely discharge’ was important – and told care homes to accept patients who had not even been tested for coronavirus.

It has since been updated saying the policy ‘will move’ to patients being tested prior to admission to care homes. 

But residents coming from their own homes do not have to be tested prior to admission. 

The devastating impact on the elderly has been laid bare in recent days, after Care England estimated the number of Covid-19 deaths in care homes reached 7,500 a week ago. 

Questions continue to emerge over the true number of Britons dying in care homes after figures from Northern Ireland yesterday showed a third of all fatalities were elderly residents.  

Senior clinicians from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and medical health charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association are also worried.

Photographs have revealed the deserted casualty departments at two of our biggest hospitals.  

The number of people presenting at A&E with suspected heart attacks has halved since the beginning of March, from 300 to 150 a day.

It is estimated that as many as 5,000 people normally expected in casualty in the same time period have simply not turned up.

One of Britain’s most experienced cancer doctors, Karol Sikora, warned in the Daily Mail this week that our healthcare system has abandoned its ‘bread and butter’ work of routine operations, tests and scans. 

Cancer Research UK has warned that 2,700 cancers a week are currently going undiagnosed.

In addition, ambulance emergency response times are their worst on record, causing heart attack victims to wait two hours on average, sometimes with fatal consequences.

And on top of all this, many who are seriously ill and awaiting life-saving operations or treatment are being turned away by doctors who fear their patients may catch the virus on the wards of our beleaguered hospitals.

Organ transplants, for example, have fallen dramatically. Last spring more than 80 a week were carried out.

Now just a handful of the most urgent heart and liver cases are being operated on weekly, as surgeons shy away from putting patients in intensive care units close to highly-infectious Covid-19 sufferers.

The Office for National Statistics last week revealed that deaths in England and Wales in the week to April 10 were the highest for 20 years. Of course, much of this was due to the virus.

But nearly 1,800 of these additional fatalities were not caused directly by it. Doctors have described the phenomenon as the ‘collateral damage’ of Covid-19.

A new public health campaign will be rolled out from next week reminding people to contact their GP or call 111 if they need urgent care, and attend a hospital if they are told to do so.

Those in an emergency must still call 999.

It also calls upon Britons to use other vital services such as cancer screening and treatment, maternity appointments and mental health support as normal.

Sir Simon said: ‘While NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to deal with coronavirus, they have also worked hard to ensure that patients who don’t have Covid-19 can safely access essential services.

‘Ignoring problems can have serious consequences – now or in the future.’

Here, in a picture supplied to The Mail by a member of the public, is the Royal London Hospital A&E waiting room at 4pm on Saturday afternoon

Here, in a picture supplied to The Mail by a member of the public, is the Royal London Hospital A&E waiting room at 4pm on Saturday afternoon

Due to efforts to ramp up capacity in the face of the coronavirus threat, the NHS now has 33,000 urgent care beds at its disposal in traditional hospitals.

The NHS has also overseen the construction of seven new Nightingale field hospitals around the country.

The campaign will include information from doctors, nurses and patient groups to highlight how the health service has adapted to the pandemic to ensure safe access to all types of urgent care.

Professor Carrie MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: ‘We are very concerned that patients may not be accessing the NHS for care because they either don’t want to be a burden or because they are fearful about catching the virus.

‘Everyone should know that the NHS is still open for business and it is vitally important that if people have serious conditions or concerns they seek help.’

The British Heart Foundation has reported a 50% fall in the number of people attending A&E with heart attacks, thereby risking their survival.

Earlier this week, Cancer Research UK warned 2,250 new cases of the disease could be going undetected each week – partly down to patients’ reluctance to go and see their GP.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also voiced his concern.

Traffic builds up on the A406 North Circular at Wembley, north London shortly before 9am this morning

Traffic builds up on the A406 North Circular at Wembley, north London shortly before 9am this morning

A group of five teenagers gathered by Bournemouth Pier this morning before a council worker arrived to tell the group to move on - but onlookers claim they ignore him and went for a paddle instead

A group of five teenagers gathered by Bournemouth Pier this morning before a council worker arrived to tell the group to move on – but onlookers claim they ignore him and went for a paddle instead

Customers queue outside the B&Q Warehouse, which has reopened after more than a month's closure, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire this morning

Customers queue outside the B&Q Warehouse, which has reopened after more than a month’s closure, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire this morning 

Members of the public were out exercising in the warm weather in Regents Park, London this morning

Members of the public were out exercising in the warm weather in Regents Park, London this morning

Is there any science behind two-metre social distancing rule…? Government adviser says guidelines on keeping apart was ‘conjured out of nowhere’ 

Social distancing orders to keep two metres apart to stop the spread of coronavirus is based on a made up figure, a government adviser has warned.

Robert Dingwall from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said the rule was ‘conjured up out of nowhere’.

The sociology professor at Nottingham Trent University said scientific evidence supports a one-metre gap, but the two-metre advice was a ‘rule of thumb’.

Nervtag feeds into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which is spearheading the government’s pandemic response.

Sage has faced fierce criticism after it was revealed Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has been sitting in on meetings as far back as February.

Mr Dingwall told Radio 4’s Today: ‘We cannot sustain [social distancing measures] without causing serious damage to society, to the economy and to the physical and mental health of the population.

‘I think it will be much harder to get compliance with some of the measures that really do not have an evidence base. I mean the two-metre rule was conjured up out of nowhere.’

He added: ‘Well there is a certain amount of scientific evidence for a one-metre distance which comes out of indoor studies in clinical and experimental settings.

‘There’s never been a scientific basis for two metres, it’s kind of a rule of thumb. But it’s not like there is a whole kind of rigorous scientific literature that it is founded upon.’

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, he said: ‘If you are told to go to hospital, the place you need to be is in hospital.

‘The NHS is there for you and can provide the very best care if you need it.’

It comes as the government is facing calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the coronavirus outbreak.

Downing Street angrily dismissed claims the advice could be politicised following the disclosure Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings had been attending meetings of a key scientific group.

Opposition parties, however, said political advisers had no business attending the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and called for its deliberations to be opened to wider scrutiny.

The row came as the coronavirus lockdown was entering its fifth weekend with fears that the expected warm weather for much of the country may see people ignoring social distancing rules.

More than 20, 300 people have now died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, with many more deaths expected in care homes.

Meanwhile, it emerged that talks have been taking place between ministers and the Premier League on re-starting the football season once the Government decides the conditions for easing the lockdown have been met.

The controversy over Sage – which will advise ministers on the lifting of the restrictions – came after The Guardian reported that Mr Cummings and Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, had been present at Sage meetings.

Downing Street denied they were members of the group and said they were simply seeking to better understand the science involved and how it could inform government decision-making.

‘Sage provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this,’ a No 10 spokesman said.

‘The scientists on Sage are among the most eminent in their fields. It is factually wrong and damaging to sensible public debate to imply their advice is affected by government advisers listening to discussions.

‘Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this.’

However, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the disclosure raised ‘significant questions’ about the credibility of Government decision-making.

‘Dominic Cummings has no place on the Government’s scientific advisory group on the coronavirus,’ he said.

‘He is a political adviser, not a medical or scientific expert. If the public are to have confidence in the Sage, the Government must make clear Dominic Cummings can no longer participate or attend.

‘We also need full transparency on who is attending meeting of Sage what is being discussed.’

Cyclists, runners and walkers were out in force in Greenwich Park in south-east London this morning

Cyclists, runners and walkers were out in force in Greenwich Park in south-east London this morning 

Wardens were monitoring the situation in Victoria Park in London this morning, which was busy as people got outdoors

Wardens were monitoring the situation in Victoria Park in London this morning, which was busy as people got outdoors

Ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond warns government MUST find a way to get Britain back to work and publish exit plan 

Philip Hammond today urged the government to face the ‘reality’ that the UK must get back to work while people are still suffering with Covid-19.

The Former Chancellor has told the Government to publish an exit plan outlining a strategy to ease the coronavirus lockdown and restart the economy.

In a stark message this morning, he warned the economy ‘will not survive’ and said the country could not afford to wait until a vaccine had become available before resuming more normal economic activity.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to return to Downing Street next week after recuperating from the virus, Mr Hammond said he hoped it would mark a ‘clear step change’ in the Government’s response to the crisis.

This comes as it was revealed today that ministers are looking at whether to relax the strict ‘stay at home’ advice to let small groups of households ‘cluster’ together.

It would allow a ‘bubble’ of up to ten close family members to meet for meals, or enable friends to share childcare. It could also allow couples who do not live together to see each other.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she is also considering relaxing the lockdown rules.

But today, Priti Patel will read the riot act to the rule-breakers ignoring the coronavirus lockdown after scenes of crowds pouring into public places sent alarm bells ringing through government.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has been in talks with the governing bodies of a number of major sports, with football expected to be the first to get the green light to resume matches behind closed door.

It is understood that detailed discussions have been taking place with medical officials from Public Health England on the criteria that would have to be met for games to go ahead.

A Government spokesman said: ‘Ministers continue to work with sports governing bodies on how live sporting events can resume in the future.

‘This can only happen once we have passed the five tests for easing social distancing measures.’ 

The Government has also given the go-ahead for a clinical trial to establish if plasma from the blood of recovered coronavirus patients could help treat others fighting the illness.

The treatment would involve the ‘convalescent plasma’, donated from the blood of people who have recovered from the virus, being transfused to patients who are struggling to produce their own antibodies against the illness.

Convalescent plasma was used as a treatment during the Sars outbreak.

Thousands of people are also expected to try to book a coronavirus test on the Government’s new website again on Saturday, after tests ran out soon after it went live on Friday.

Some 46,000 people tried to book a test, with more than 10 million key workers and their households now eligible for one as the Government races to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday.

Under the expansion, NHS and social care staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, journalists and those who work in supermarkets and food production are among those now eligible.

But within two minutes of the website going live at 6am on Friday, all 5,000 tests for people to do at home had been booked, while more than 15,000 appointments for tests at drive-through centres were also taken quickly.

The Department of Health said a total of 19,506 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Thursday, up by 768 from 18,738 the day before.

Key workers are missing out on coronavirus tests because no checks are being made on who is entitled to claim them – as 19,000 drive-in slots and 5,000 home kits run out within just one hour of site opening today 

How do you arrange a coronavirus test? 

ARRANGING YOUR OWN

Essential workers who are self-isolating can book a test directly here. You can select a regional test site drive-through appointment or home test kit.

The Department of Health said home test kit availability will initially be limited but more will become available. However, it said there is good availability of regional test sites.

Those who face problems on the website can call the service desk on 0300 303 2713, from 8am to 8pm.

BEING REFERRED FOR ONE

Another way essential workers can get tested is by being referred by their employer through a new portal, if they are already self-isolating. 

It is a secure portal for employers to use to upload the full list of names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers.

If referred, essential workers will get a text message with a unique code to book a test for themselves or family members at a regional testing site. 

Key workers could be missing out on coronavirus tests because no checks are being made on who is entitled to claim for them.   

Some 5,000 home kits and 19,000 drive-through tests were expected to be made available on Saturday – with key workers asked to fill out an online application form as the government races to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday.

Many were trying to secure a test for the second time after the government’s new website had to close hours after launching on Friday as 46,000 people tried to access it. 

But within twenty minutes of the website launching this morning, home test kits were no longer available and applicants could only select a drive-through test. 

And within an hour drive-through tests in England had also completely booked up.

Ten million key workers and their households are now eligible for the tests.

But the government was yesterday  forced to admit that no checks will be made on whether those requesting coronavirus tests are genuinely essential workers. 

One man who successfully applied for a drive-in test minutes after the scheme opened told the Guardian ‘any Tom, Dick or Harry’ can get a test. 

Number 10 said the Government is trusting that those applying for tests are key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.

The official spokesman said: ‘As with many other aspects of the coronavirus response, we would expect the public to respond in good faith.

‘That is what they have done with other aspects of the scheme, I think we’d expect it to be the same here.’

A key worker hands back a swab to a medical worker at a drive-in testing facility for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in east London today

A key worker hands back a swab to a medical worker at a drive-in testing facility for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in east London today

Home kits and regional tests were available on the government website on the government website at 8.10am today. But within twenty minutes of the website launching home testing kits were no longer available. And within an hour drive-through tests in England had also completely booked up

Home kits and regional tests were available on the government website on the government website at 8.10am today. But within twenty minutes of the website launching home testing kits were no longer available. And within an hour drive-through tests in England had also completely booked up 

Despite tests booking up so quickly, Dr Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer at NHS Digital, said the website had been ‘improved’ before it re-opened on Saturday – adding that an ‘amazing team’ had worked ‘all night’ on it.

‘Home kits all booked by 8:15! I know it’s frustrating but we’re developing more lab, supply and logistics capacity every day,’ he said on Twitter. 

‘If we’d waited until we had the full 100k, to launch, no one would have had a test today. More home kits again tomorrow, even more next week.’ 

Asked whether the Government was confident people would be able to test themselves accurately with a kit sent to their homes, the spokesman added: ‘There are videos available to show people how to do this and people will be given clear instructions.’ 

Under the scheme, test results from the drive-through sites will be sent out by text within 48 hours, and within 72 hours of collection of the home delivery tests.  

Among those able to book a test on Friday was Poundstretcher property manager Natalie Orton-Rose, from Leicester (pictured). But she revealed she was turned away after she arrived at the drive-through centre

Among those able to book a test on Friday was Poundstretcher property manager Natalie Orton-Rose, from Leicester (pictured). But she revealed she was turned away after she arrived at the drive-through centre

A medical worker sprays hand sanitiser on an essential worker at a drive-in testing facility for coronavirus, in east London today

A medical worker sprays hand sanitiser on an essential worker at a drive-in testing facility for coronavirus, in east London today

Frustrated key workers also struggled to secure one of the kits yesterday. Within two minutes of the website going live at 6am on Friday, all 5,000 tests for people to do at home had been booked. 

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 appointments for tests at drive-through centres were also taken quickly, forcing the Department of Health to apologise on Twitter ‘for any inconvenience’ and close applications. 

Among those able to book a test on Friday was Poundstretcher property manager Natalie Orton-Rose, from Leicester.

But she revealed she was turned away after she arrived at the drive-through centre. 

She told the BBC: ‘I drove an hour from my home in Leicester [to the test centre in Nottingham] and sat waiting for half an hour in the queue only to be told actually they had no more tests left,’ she said.

‘I am absolutely disgusted. It is bad enough that my closest test centre is an hour away but then to waste my time and fuel.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps apologised after the new government website was closed due to ‘significant demand’. 

Mr Shapps yesterday told the daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference that reports the website had crashed were not accurate and it was ‘simply that the slots for today were taken up’.

He insisted the government is confident every key worker who needs a test will soon be able to access one as ministers strive to hit a 100,000 daily tests target by the end of April. 

‘We know what the capacity is, we don’t quite know how many people would want to be tested because many people working for the NHS for example will have already accessed those tests through their work places,’ he said. 

Traffic queueing to enter a temporary COVID-19 testing facility at IKEA in Wembley, north London

Traffic queueing to enter a temporary COVID-19 testing facility at IKEA in Wembley, north London

Key workers vented their frustration on Twitter about a lack of tests this morning (above and below)

Key workers vented their frustration on Twitter about a lack of tests this morning (above and below)

Mr Shapps said things will soon ‘settle down’ after ‘46,000 people went to the portal first thing today’. 

‘There are some more slots opening up right now as I am speaking and there will be more slots tomorrow and in the days after,’ he added.

He also stressed the test was only suitable for those who think they currently have coronavirus, not those who think they’ve previously had it. 

Ministers say that UK testing capacity is currently at 51,000 a day – including tests within the NHS and care homes – and they are hoping to be able to provide 18,000 home test kits by the end of April. 

No 10 said 5,000 home kits – the total on offer – were ordered online this morning. Ministers expected another 15,000 tests to take place at drive-through sites today. 

Under the scheme, test results from the drive-through sites will be sent out by text within 48 hours, and within 72 hours of collection of the home delivery tests.  

Separately, key workers who are self-isolating can also now get tested by being referred by their employer through a new portal, which went live at midnight. 

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘Within two minutes of the portal opening this morning, 5,000 testing kits had been ordered. And that’s the available capacity for today.’ 

Number 10 also said the Government is trusting that those applying for tests are key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings. 

The spokesman said: ‘As with many other aspects of the coronavirus response, we would expect the public to respond in good faith. 

‘That is what they have done with other aspects of the scheme, I think we’d expect it to be the same here.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed this evening that some 46,000 people had tried to book a coronavirus test yesterday morning

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed this evening that some 46,000 people had tried to book a coronavirus test yesterday morning

On testing for other groups, they added: ‘We want the capacity that we have in the system to be used and you can see this morning that the system is working, people are booking slots and now they are going to be able to undergo tests.’

Asked whether the Government was confident people would be able to test themselves accurately with a kit sent to their homes, the spokesman added: ‘There are videos available to show people how to do this and people will be given clear instructions. We would hope they would be able to do this, yes.’

Timeline of the key worker testing website’s launch on Friday 

YESTERDAY 

  • 8am: New online system for booking coronavirus tests for key workers goes live
  • 8.02am: 5,000 home test kits are all taken up
  • 8.30am: Website says it is no longer taking home test kit orders
  • 10am: 19,000 drive-through test appointments are taken up

TODAY 

  • 8am: Another 5,000 home test kits and 19,000 drive-through test appointements go live
  • 8.20am: 5,000 home test kits are all taken up

Earlier, some people took to Twitter to complain that the process was ‘not simple’ or that they could not find a category for their job role, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock claiming the process was straightforward and ‘a bit like booking a flight’. 

And some users got an error message saying there is a ‘problem with your order’, asking them to contact the system’s service desk on a freephone number. It comes after the Government revealed coding for the website was only finished yesterday.  

A DoH spokesman tweeted at about 11am today: ‘There has been significant demand for booking tests today. We apologise for any inconvenience. We are continuing to rapidly increase availability. More tests will be available tomorrow.’

Mr Hancock said that people whose work is critical to the Covid-19 response, and those they live with, will be able to register for a test if they have symptoms.

NHS staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, journalists and those who work in supermarkets and food production are among those eligible.

But among those failing to get a test was MailOnline reader Merida, 39, of Glasgow, who said: ‘I applied one minute after midnight and never got texted.

‘We keep reapplying and get nothing sent to us. My husband is a teacher, I have potentially had Covid and still do after five or six weeks. This is ridiculous.

‘We have a three-year-old who cannot go to nursery because of all of this. Wasting hundreds of pounds a month.

‘Cannot get Universal Credit due to husband’s income, I lost business due to Covid and no help as business is 11 months old. We needed that test.’

She later added at 11am: ‘Just got the text and found a slot for tomorrow. Took hours though. Very bizarre.’

The first stage of the coronavirus testing application on the gov.uk website is pictured above

The first stage of the coronavirus testing application on the gov.uk website is pictured above

Key workers were asked whether they wanted to visit a regional site or request a home test kit

Key workers were asked whether they wanted to visit a regional site or request a home test kit

And mother-of-two Kama Phillips, from Plymouth, Devon, tweeted: ‘Tried to book a Covid test as I’m classed as a key worker and  can send my children to school as our hardware store has been classed as essential and wasn’t allowed to shut.

‘When trying to book there’s no category for my job role, so which is it? What category should I fall under?’

Meanwhile there were claims that the drive-through testing centre at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey had lost some test results of NHS staff.

Results were also allegedly sent to the wrong person, with some doctors and nurses raising the alarm when their results never arrived, reported the Guardian.

There were also claims by the newspaper that the test centre could not call through with the diagnosis because it had failed to record correct phone numbers.

The announcement over testing came as researchers at the University of Oxford began human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine candidate. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk