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Coronavirus UK: Death toll hits 8,958 with 980 new fatalities

Britain suffered another grim day in its coronavirus crisis today as officials recorded another 980 deaths in the home nations, taking the UK’s spiralling victim count to 8,958. 

A further 5,706 people have been diagnosed with the disease in the past 24 hours, meaning a total of 70,783 have now tested positive. Officials managed a record 19,116 tests yesterday, a marked increase in its daily effort from 10,713 yesterday.

England recorded 866 new fatalities among infected patients in hospital, while another 114 were today confirmed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The number means the UK’s worst day has now surpassed that of Italy and Spain, which have been at the centre of Europe’s devastating epidemic but never recorded more than 950 hospital deaths in a day, a figure reached in Spain on April 3.

It comes after a top government adviser warned today that Britain won’t know for weeks whether the draconian lockdown imposed on March 23 can be eased. 

The Government is pleading with British people to stay at home this bank holiday as the country looks set for summer weather. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people must do their part to help NHS staff who are ‘battling day and night’ to save desperately ill people. ‘They need you to stay at home,’ he told the daily briefing in Downing Street.

In other developments to the UK’s growing crisis today:

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s is up and walking around as his condition continue to improve, but Number 10 warned he still needs to rest and with father Stanley says he will not be able to return to work soon; 
  • Downing Street was forced to warn police officers against ‘heavy-handed’ lockdown tactics after officers admitted to prowling through supermarket aisles in a bid to catch shoppers buying ‘non-essential’ items;
  • Italy is preparing to extend its lockdown until May in order to avoid a second wave, sparking fears the UK – considered to be two weeks behind its European neighbour – will remain shut for even longer;
  • Schools could reopen even if it’s for a short time before the summer holidays if it safe to do so – once the scientific advice says so, headteachers have said;
  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May showed strict observance of the six feet rule as she waited to shop in Waitrose, pictured glancing at her phone as she waited outside the Berkshire store;  
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock was accused of setting a poor example on social distancing after it was claimed he was surrounded by staff during video calls with NHS chiefs;
  • Turkey began sending planeloads of emergency equipment, including surgical masks, N95 industrial masks and hazmat suits, to Britain to help medics fighting coronavirus. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people must do their part to help NHS staff who are 'battling day and night' to save desperately ill people. 'They need you to stay at home,' he told the daily briefing in Downing Street

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people must do their part to help NHS staff who are ‘battling day and night’ to save desperately ill people. ‘They need you to stay at home,’ he told the daily briefing in Downing Street

Paramedics wearing protective gear take a patient in to St Thomas' Hospital in central London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being cared for

Paramedics wearing protective gear take a patient in to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being cared for

Experts say it is still too soon to see the impact of the UK’s lockdown – imposed on March 23 – in daily statistics.

But Government advisers last night said the NHS ‘can cope’ with the current situation and intensive care units still have room. 

Experts have insisted the curve is flattening, with the number of new cases and the number of patients being hospitalised having stabilised this week.

Clear figures for the number of cases and admissions have yet to be released today for the UK. They are expected later this afternoon. 

Scientists have also said the death toll will continue to rise for at least another two weeks because a lag in how fatalities are announced.

Deaths announced each day have not, for the most part, happened in the past 24 hours but are spread across the days and weeks that came before.

This makes it impossible to predict where the peak will be – or has already been – or to get a clear picture until around a week to 10 days after the date in question.

BRITAIN WON’T KNOW FOR WEEKS WHETHER LOCKDOWN CAN BE EASED, EXPERT SAYS 

Britain won’t know for weeks whether lockdown can be eased, a top government adviser warned today – as the Cabinet descended into wrangling over fears the curbs themselves could cause 150,000 deaths.

Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, whose bleak prediction sent the UK into lockdown, said ‘definitive’ proof of whether restrictions have worked will not be available for ‘several more weeks’.

But Professor Ferguson, who himself was struck down with tell-tale COVID-19 symptoms, hinted the public may be amplifying the hit to the economy by following ‘social distancing’ better than the government had hoped.

The message came amid a mounting backlash at ministers for stonewalling over their ‘exit strategy’ for getting out of the crisis threatening to destroy millions of jobs and businesses. 

Experts say that mass testing is the only safe way to ease the restrictions because otherwise no-one knows what proportion of the public has been infected, and whether the killer infection could still be spreading.

However, claims have surfaced that Boris Johnson himself was becoming alarmed at the impact of the lockdown before he was struck down with the virus, as he had not expected Britons to fall into line so readily.

According to well-connected Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, the Cabinet is now split into three ‘factions’ – with one wanting tougher measures, another believing the ‘cure is already worse than the disease’, and a third element saying the government must wait for public opinion to shift before changing approach.

A tentative estimate circulating in Whitehall suggests a long-term lockdown could mean 150,000 ‘excess’ deaths from non-coronavirus causes. A Downing Street spokesman tried to play down the figure this afternoon, but stopped short of denying it. ‘It is not a number that I have ever seen,’ the spokesman said. 

Britain has so far managed to avoid the dark milestone of announcing 1,000 deaths in a single day, something that has only happened in the US.

France has also announced days with more than 1,000 victims but it takes into account fatalities outside of hospitals, such as in care homes, which many countries do not.

Of the 866 new deaths announced in England, only 117 were recorded as occurring yesterday. The rest were scattered across this week.

Nearly 60 of the victims – the youngest a 40-year-old – had no underlying conditions, NHS England revealed today.

Scotland today announced 48 more victims, taking its total COVID-19 death toll to 495. But it uses a different time cut-off to the Department of Health.

Northern Ireland also has the same issue, recording 10 more deaths today – pushing its victim count up to 92.

For reference, the Department of Health said Scotland and Northern Ireland’s death tolls yesterday were 366 and 78, respectively. 

Wales – whose figure has always matched the same tally collated by the DH – today announced 29 more deaths. It now has 315 known victims.

It comes as experts say the UK’s lockdown could rumble on for months because officials have no idea how many people are truly infected with the coronavirus and none of the tools to end the outbreak.

Italy, widely considered to be about a fortnight ahead of the UK, is today expected to prolong its shutdown until May 3 as it grapples to get COVID-19 under control.

Scientists say it won’t be safe for the UK to emerge from lockdown until labs are able to test people en masse, to use antibody tests to work out who is already immune, or a vaccine or treatment can be developed.

Public Health England has yet to find or create an antibody test it finds acceptable, the country is testing fewer than 15,000 people per day compared to more than 70,000 in Germany, and vaccines are months away. 

Trying to move forward without being led by a mass testing regime would, in the words of the director-general of the World Health Organization, be like trying to ‘fight a fire blindfolded’.

HEALTH SECRETARY MATT HANCOCK IS ACCUSED OF SETTING A POOR EXAMPLE ON SOCIAL DISTANCING 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of setting a poor example on social distancing after it was claimed he was surrounded by staff during video calls with NHS chiefs.

Mr Hancock is alleged to have had between ten and 20 Department of Health and Social Care officials in his Whitehall office during the calls which are taking place every day.

NHS leaders suggested the approach apparently taken by Mr Hancock was not in line with government advice for everyone to work at home if they possibly can.

They said it appeared as if Mr Hancock and his staff viewed social distancing rules as being ‘for other people’.

A senior NHS leader who has seen the meetings told the Health Service Journal that the approach was effectively ‘encouraging presenteeism’. 

It also makes it ‘hard to send the right messages’ to the public about staying at home, they said.

The anonymous senior NHS source said: ‘It looks like the Health Secretary and his colleagues think “social distancing” is for other people and that coming into the office is necessary for senior leaders.’

The government’s official coronavirus guidance states that people should ‘work from home, where possible’ and that ‘your employer should support you to do this’.

Officials have diagnosed just 65,000 people with the coronavirus in the UK but believe up to 10 per cent of the population – 6.6million people – could have had the illness already.

Estimates vary wildly, with Imperial College experts suggesting 1.98million may have been infected already while Oxford experts say it could be as many as 33million. 

It comes as it as a leading government adviser today said Britain won’t know for weeks whether lockdown can be eased, a top government adviser warned today.

Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, whose bleak predictions sent the UK into lockdown, said ‘definitive’ proof of whether restrictions have worked will not be available for ‘several more weeks’.

But Professor Ferguson, who himself was struck down with tell-tale COVID-19 symptoms, hinted the public may be amplifying the hit to the economy by following ‘social distancing’ better than the government had hoped.

The message came amid a mounting backlash at ministers for stonewalling over their ‘exit strategy’ for getting out of the crisis threatening to destroy millions of jobs and businesses. 

Experts say that mass testing is the only safe way to ease the restrictions because otherwise no-one knows what proportion of the public has been infected, and whether the killer infection could still be spreading.

However, claims have surfaced that Boris Johnson himself was becoming alarmed at the impact of the lockdown before he was struck down with the virus, as he had not expected Britons to fall into line so readily.

According to well-connected Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, the Cabinet is now split into three ‘factions’ – with one wanting tougher measures.

London: Queue at Asda Clapham junction snakes across and down the car park before entering a chicane of upturned shopping trollies

London: Queue at Asda Clapham junction snakes across and down the car park before entering a chicane of upturned shopping trollies

Newcastle: Early morning shoppers queue outside waiting for the Sainsbury's supermarket to open in Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Newcastle: Early morning shoppers queue outside waiting for the Sainsbury’s supermarket to open in Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

West London: People observe social distancing in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus by standing behind tape lines as they queue up to shop outside a branch of the Tesco supermarket chain

West London: People observe social distancing in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus by standing behind tape lines as they queue up to shop outside a branch of the Tesco supermarket chain

GOOD FRIDAY SHOPPERS WAIT IN INSANE QUEUES OUTSIDE SHOPS UP AND DOWN THE UK

Good Friday shoppers waited in ‘insane’ queues that formed outside supermarkets up and down the UK from dawn today to buy food and booze to see them through the four-day Easter bank holiday weekend.

Many had to wait in line for more than three hours as temperatures hit 25C (77F) on the hottest day of the year so far – but experts believe the delays will be even longer tomorrow because stores will be shut on Easter Sunday.

Asda customers waiting to enter their superstore at Clapham Junction in South London were funnelled into an extraordinary chicane of upturned shopping trollies that snaked around its packed car park. 

Similar long lines of people were seen in towns and cities all over Britain today – even though most were there before the doors opened at 8am this morning.

There were queues all the way around the car parks as people were asked to keep two metres apart as they waited to pick up their shopping trolleys – and then had to queue again to enter the store when someone else left.  

Another believes the ‘cure is already worse than the disease’, and a third element says the government must wait for public opinion to shift before changing approach.

A tentative estimate circulating in Whitehall suggests a long-term lockdown could mean 150,000 ‘excess’ deaths from non-coronavirus causes. 

A Downing Street spokesman tried to play down the figure this afternoon, but stopped short of denying it. ‘It is not a number that I have ever seen,’ the spokesman said. 

In other developments today, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was accused of setting a poor example on social distancing after it was claimed he was surrounded by staff during video calls with NHS chiefs.

Mr Hancock is alleged to have had between ten and 20 Department of Health and Social Care officials in his Whitehall office during the calls which are taking place every day.

NHS leaders suggested the approach apparently taken by Mr Hancock was not in line with government advice for everyone to work at home if they possibly can. 

The anonymous NHS source told the Health Service Journal: ‘It looks like the Health Secretary and his colleagues think “social distancing” is for other people and that coming into the office is necessary for senior leaders.’

It comes as Good Friday shoppers waited in ‘insane’ queues that formed outside supermarkets up and down the UK from dawn today to buy food and booze to see them through the four-day Easter bank holiday weekend.

Many had to wait in line for more than three hours as temperatures hit 25C (77F) on the hottest day of the year so far – but experts believe the delays will be even longer tomorrow because stores will be shut on Easter Sunday.

Asda customers waiting to enter their superstore at Clapham Junction in South London were funnelled into an extraordinary chicane of upturned shopping trollies that snaked around its packed car park. 

Similar long lines of people were seen in towns and cities all over Britain today – even though most were there before the doors opened at 8am this morning.

There were queues all the way around the car parks as people were asked to keep two metres apart as they waited to pick up their shopping trolleys – and then had to queue again to enter the store when someone else left.  

Downing Street hits back at ‘heavy-handed’ police and says open shops can sell ‘whatever is in stock’ after officers prowl aisles looking for shoppers buying ‘non-essential’ items and one PC orders family back inside from their own GARDEN

Downing Street has been forced to warn police officers against ‘heavy-handed’ lockdown tactics after officers admitted to prowling through supermarket aisles in a bid to catch shoppers buying ‘non-essential’ items.

Police forces across the country have been accused of being over-zealous in their Easter weekend crackdown as they threatened to check through people’s shopping, causing #policestateUK to trend on Twitter.

The warning saw Downing Street warn police today that ‘if a shop is open then it will sell whatever it has in stock’, while Home Secretary Priti Patel called on officers not to be ‘heavy-handed’ during the coronavirus lockdown. 

It comes as Cambridge Police’s official Twitter account boasted that officers had visited a local superstore this morning to snoop on shoppers and found aisles selling non-essentials were ’empty’.

The tweet caused outrage from social media users, with many pointing to a post sent by the same account hours earlier thanking a local chocolate shop for dropping off a ‘generation donation of goodies’ at its police station. 

Meanwhile a viral video showed a South Yorkshire police officer scolding a family on their own doorstep for letting their young children play on their front lawn.

The force later apologised for the encounter, which it called ‘well-intentioned but ill-informed’, after the officer told the young family: ‘You do not want your children getting the virus, it does not stop in front of your garden.’ 

Warnings that officers would stop and search those venturing out during the four-day break saw Britain’s roads left eerily quiet on Good Friday, on what is usually one of the busiest days of the year for car journeys. 

Motorways, usually teeming with millions of holidaymakers making their way to seaside resorts, were left deserted this morning as top cops warned they would set up road blocks to grill motorists on why they were not at home.

A video shows a South Yorkshire police officer scolding a family on their own doorstep for letting their young children play on their lawn during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has killed 7,978 people in the UK so far

Cambridge Police's official Twitter account boasted this morning that officers had visited a local superstore and found aisles selling non-essentials such as barbecues and sun loungers were 'empty'

Cambridge Police’s official Twitter account boasted this morning that officers had visited a local superstore and found aisles selling non-essentials such as barbecues and sun loungers were ’empty’

Police chiefs yesterday called for laws to ban Britons from driving long distances and flouting rules to exercise more than once a day ahead of a 77F (25C) Easter weekend.

Cambridge Police’s tweet in which it gloated of prowling through non-essential aisles was met with anger by many on social media. 

The tweet read: ‘Officers visited Tesco Barhill this morning as part of their patrols around supermarkets and green spaces this weekend.

‘Good to see everyone was abiding by social distancing measures and the non-essential aisles were empty.’

But in a follow-up on Twitter the force said the initial post, which has since been deleted, was made by an ‘over exuberant officer’ and that its position was in line with national guidance.

‘For clarification, the force position, in line with national guidance, is that we are not monitoring what people are buying from supermarkets,’ it said.

‘This message was sent with good intentions by an over exuberant officer who has been spoken to since this tweet was published.’

The force added that while it has had to issue a small number of fines to those ignoring lockdown guidance, none of these were in relation to shopping or supermarket visits.

Among those to chastise the post was Pip Moss, who wrote: ‘The law doesn’t forbid the purchase of non-essential items when also shopping for essentials such as food.

‘Your officers time could be better spent, and over-stepping the law like this harms public confidence in the police.’

Another user added: ‘One day you’re going to have to look back on all this and tell people that in the midst of crisis you chose to spend your time patrolling around looking to enforce laws that didn’t exist.’  

A before and after comparison shows Lyme Regis beach in Dorset, both today as it lies almost completely empty (left), and at this time last year when it was teeming with holidaymakers (right)

The M5 motorway in Worcester, Worcestershire, which is normally busy during the Easter bank holiday getaway, is quiet as the UK continues in lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus

The M5 motorway in Worcester, Worcestershire, which is normally busy during the Easter bank holiday getaway, is quiet as the UK continues in lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus

Durham Police were castigated by social media users after seemingly suggesting that people should not be using their bicycles to exercise this weekend, in contrary to current government advice 

Speaking yesterday, Northamptonshire Police said the ‘three-week grace period is over’ and threatened that they may even soon start ‘checking the items in baskets and trolleys’.

Its Chief Constable Nick Adderley said: ‘We will not at this stage be starting to marshal supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it’s a legitimate and necessary item. 

‘But again, be under no illusion, if people do not heed the warnings, and the pleas that I’m making, we will start to do that.’

And he added: ‘If things don’t improve, and we don’t get the compliance we would expect, then the next stage will be road blocks and it will be stopping people to ask why they are going, where they’re going.’ 

But asked about the prospect of police officers potentially checking shopping trolleys, Ms Patel told TalkRADIO: ‘That is not appropriate, let me be clear on that… that is not the guidance.’

Officers in Windermere, Cumbria, are already sending people in camper vans home, while locals in St Ives, Cornwall, blocked some roads to protect vulnerable residents.  

A police officer walks up and down Brighton beach asking people to move on during the coronavirus lockdown this Good Friday

A police officer walks up and down Brighton beach asking people to move on during the coronavirus lockdown this Good Friday

A shopper makes her way home after picking up some paint today. Discount website Vouchercodes said it had seen a 445 per cent increase in the search for DIY equipment in the week-long lead up to the Easter weekend

A shopper makes her way home after picking up some paint today. Discount website Vouchercodes said it had seen a 445 per cent increase in the search for DIY equipment in the week-long lead up to the Easter weekend

The Cotswold village of Bibury, usually teeming with holidaymakers during the Easter weekend, is deserted after it was closed to visitors today

The Cotswold village of Bibury, usually teeming with holidaymakers during the Easter weekend, is deserted after it was closed to visitors today

Britons load-up for lockdown weekend: Sales of Easter eggs, wine, barbecues and paddling pools soar by up to 4,000% 

Sales of paddling pools and barbecues have skyrocketed in the lead up to the Easter weekend as Brits prepare for a sun-drenched lockdown in the back garden after police threatened to stomp out all non-essential travel.

Sunny forecasts for the weekend has seen sun loungers and parasols sell out on online websites, as officers warned they would go through peoples’ shopping for ‘non-essential items’ if they dared to venture outside to shop.

Amazon reported a 4,000 per cent rise in the sale of paddling pools in the last 24 hours, while Waitrose saw a threefold increase in the sale of yoga equipment as Brits 

Brits are also continuing to load up on food and drink, with Hotel Chocolat revealing that it had seen a 400 per cent increase in online orders for Easter eggs, while Thorntons had seen a similarly ‘dramatic increase’.  

Alcohol sales are still rising, too, with wine sales in supermarkets and corner shops jumping up by 22 per cent in March, according to consumer analysts Kantar.

Discount website Vouchercodes said it had seen a 445 per cent increase in the search for DIY equipment in the week-long lead up to the Easter weekend, as well as a 565 per cent rise in searches for gardening equipment.

Police have also created online forms for people to report potential breaches of the lockdown which was imposed on March 23 to slow the spread of the deadly disease.

Merseyside Police said it will begin randomly stopping cars in its area to ensure drivers are sticking to lockdown rules ahead of the weekend. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has not been seen or heard in public since March 23, said in an unexpected radio interview this evening that police must not act in a ‘heavy-handed’ manner during the coronavirus lockdown. 

She also said the government will ‘absolutely not’ be increasing police powers amid concerns about the way in which some officers have interpreted government guidance on breaking up groups and stopping journeys.

Ms Patel’s intervention came as: 

  • England, Scotland and Wales recorded 887 more coronavirus deaths yesterday, taking Britain’s total to 7,984 as the coronavirus crisis continues;
  • Downing Street said Britain was at a ‘critical juncture’ in the battle to curb the spread of the disease;
  • The Government made clear there can be no early lifting of the strict social distancing rules, urging the public to ‘stick with it’;
  • Boris Johnson’s condition is ‘continuing to improve’ after a third night in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital in London where he is being treated for coronavirus.

At least five chief constables are calling for the introduction of more stringent restrictions and clearer rules – including laws to enforce limiting exercise to a one-hour period outdoors after some people flouted it to sunbathe in parks or beaches.

Mr Adderley said forces are ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ when it comes to implementing the lockdown rules, and said the government guidance ‘could be even clearer’. 

Reacting to the trolley claims made by Mr Adderley, ex-justice secretary David Gauke said they were ‘wholly inappropriate’ and reveal ‘worrying and unacceptable authoritarian instincts.’ 

Civil liberties campaigners were also furious, with Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo stating the ‘suggestion of police rummaging through people’s shopping trolleys is outrageous’ as she questioned what the legal basis would be for doing so.

Mr Adderley later attempted to clarify his remarks, tweeting: ‘To be clear on the shopping trolley issue: This is about essential and necessary journeys, not what’s in your trolley. I have been clear that we will not be judge and jury on what is an essential item or not, but we may now probe the purpose of the journey.’

The M25 near Dartford in Kent was also eerily quiet this morning (right) compared to the busy traffic of the four-day holiday last year (left)

Sales of gardening and DIY items have skyrocketed (shown today) as Brits prepare for a sun-drenched lockdown in the back garden after police threatened to stomp out all non-essential travel

Sales of gardening and DIY items have skyrocketed (shown today) as Brits prepare for a sun-drenched lockdown in the back garden after police threatened to stomp out all non-essential travel

A busy Richmond riverside is pictured today as people enjoy their daily allowance of exercise ahead of a four-day Bank Holiday weekend in Britain

A busy Richmond riverside is pictured today as people enjoy their daily allowance of exercise ahead of a four-day Bank Holiday weekend in Britain

The police have the power to issue fines to people who gather in groups during the lockdown. People are only supposed to go outside for food, medicine, to get to work, or for exercise once a day. 

The emergency Coronavirus Act gave police powers to impose restrictions on ‘events and gatherings’ and it has been suggested that this could be used by forces in an attempt to justify road blocks.  

However, the law does not include any provision that could force people to require prior permission, show paperwork, or demonstrate reasonable cause for leaving their home.

Police forces in Cambridgeshire, London, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Kent and Avon and Somerset have all brought in online services for the public to report potential breaches of the lockdown rules. 

The announcement on the online forms from Cambridgeshire Constabulary faced some criticism online, with one person describing it as a ‘revolting’ idea.

But a spokesman for the force urged people to only use the form ‘if there is a significant issue or breach’.

The M25 near Dartford in Kent was also eerily quiet this morning (right) compared to the busy traffic of the four-day holiday last year (left)

Police (shown in central London today) have been accused of being over-zealous in their approach as they threatened to set up road blocks to grill motorists on why they were not at home, causing #policestateUK to trend on Twitter

Police (shown in central London today) have been accused of being over-zealous in their approach as they threatened to set up road blocks to grill motorists on why they were not at home, causing #policestateUK to trend on Twitter

Police forces in beauty spots across Britain have reported seeing visitors travel long distances from their homes to enjoy the recent warm weather.

People travelled far to spend time in Cumbria last weekend, while Malham Cove in North Yorkshire had visitors from Bradford, Leeds and Oldham – which is more than 50 miles away. 

In the South West, Chief Superintendent Ian Drummond-Smith, police commander for Cornwall, warned non-residents to stay away from the area.

He said: ‘Our officers will be patrolling this weekend, firstly on the M5 and A30 in an attempt to prevent visitors from entering the force area, and then locally to enforce the restrictions.

‘We will do so in a fair and balanced manner, but travelling down to the West Country is a serious breach of these restrictions and those doing so can expect to receive a fine.’ 

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