Covid-19: Touching 13,000 deaths, 1 lakh cases, UK set to extend lockdown

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Covid-19 in UK: UK-wide figures released on Wednesday evening showed 12,868 deaths and 98,476 cases.

The Boris Johnson government was poised to announce an extension to the three-week lockdown on Thursday, as the number of deaths and cases from coronavirus approached 13,000 and 1 lakh respectively – making the UK one of the worst infected in Europe.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Johnson recovering from the virus, was due to announce the extension at the daily briefing in Downing Street on Thursday evening. Concerns grew for those infected and dying outside hospitals that are not reflected in daily figures.

UK-wide figures released on Wednesday evening showed 12,868 deaths and 98,476 cases.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Labour would support a three-week extension but said the best way out of the lockdown is to move to a testing and contact-tracing strategy.

Health secretary Matt Hancock stressed that the number of deaths is still “far too high” for any exit strategy to be set out, insisting that people must focus on staying at home. According to health minister Nadine Dorries, an exit strategy must await the mass availability of vaccine.

Dorries tweeted that journalists should stop asking about an exit strategy: “There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine. Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy”.

Hancock told Sky News on Thursday: “I think what Nadine was saying is the idea that we’ll immediately … we’ll just switch off all of the measures and return to some kind of … to things exactly as they were – that is not likely in the short term…This will take time”.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, who is advising the government, called for more official action, and noted that more preparation had been done for Brexit, including a separate department, than to deal with the pandemic.

Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s a lot of discussion. I would like to see action accelerated. I don’t have a deep insight about what’s going on in government, but decisions need to be accelerated. We need to put in place an infrastructure, a command and control structure, a novel organisation”.

“I’m reminded we had a department for Brexit for government. That was a major national emergency and we are faced with something even larger than Brexit. And yet I don’t quite see the evidence for that level of organisation. I’d like to see measures accelerated.”

He said some level of social distancing would need to be retained, a vaccine is available, calling for a single-minded emphasis on scaling up testing and contact tracing.