Britain now has Europe’s second-highest official COVID-19 death toll with more than 26,000, according to figures published on Wednesday that raised questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to the outbreak.
Some 26,097 people died across the United Kingdom after testing positive for COVID-19 as of April 28, Public Health England (PHE) said, citing daily figures that included deaths outside of hospital settings for the first time.
That means the United Kingdom has suffered more COVID-19 deaths than France or Spain have reported, though less than Italy, which has Europe’s highest death toll and the second-worst in the world after the United States.
“We must never lose sight of the fact that behind every statistic there are many human lives that have tragically been lost before their time,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters. “We are still coming through the peak and this is a delicate and dangerous moment in the crisis.”
Such a high UK death toll increases the pressure on Johnson just as opposition parties accused his government of being too slow to impose a lockdown to limit contagion from the new coronavirus, too slow to introduce mass testing and too slow to get enough protective equipment to hospitals.
Johnson returned to work on Monday after recuperating from COVID-19, which had left him gravely ill in intensive care at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak. He celebrated the birth of a baby son on Wednesday.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer criticized Johnson’s response to the world’s worst public health crisis since the 1918 influenza outbreak. Johnson had spoken of Britain’s “apparent success” in tackling COVID-19 in a speech to the nation on Monday.
Starmer said his calculations showed 27,241 had died in the UK from COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the coronavirus. In mid-March, the government’s chief scientific adviser said keeping Britain’s death toll below 20,000 would be a “good outcome”.