The UK on Tuesday hit another grim COVID-19 milestone as the country's death toll from the deadly virus crossed 100,000 since the peak of the pandemic last year, with another 1,631 daily deaths. The total number of fatalities in the country has reached 100,162.
"It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic, the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended and for many relatives not even the chance to say goodbye," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as he unveiled the latest figures at a briefing from 10 Downing Street in London. It's an appalling and tragic loss of life. All we can do now is work together with the tolls that we have with the stay at home principle, plus the vaccines, to defeat the virus," he said.
Johnson promised that the country will commemorate the lives lost together at a future date and also the "immense national effort" to tackle the pandemic from health workers to scientists developing vaccines and key workers. England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, joined Johnson at the briefing on the "very sad day and went through health data to note that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK peaked at an extremely high number but it is coming down.
"We need to be realistic that that number will come down relatively slowly over the next two weeks We need to be careful we do not relax (lockdown restrictions) too early, he said. The government's latest data now coincides with earlier Office for National Statistics (ONS) assessment of death certificate data, which had revealed that there have been nearly 104,000 deaths since last year. The UK government's daily death toll figures rely on positive coronavirus tests in the past 28 days and are therefore slightly behind on the death certificate figures.
The ONS figures showed that a total of 7,245 registered deaths in England and Wales mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate in the week ending January 15, which is up from 6,057 deaths the week before and is the highest weekly number since April 24, 2020. "It is a tragedy that we have now seen more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. This is a dreadful milestone to have reached, and behind each death will be a story of sorrow and grief, said Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, a membership organisation for the state-funded National Health Service (NHS).
"We won't know the true impact of COVID-19 for a long time to come because of its long-term effects but, as well as the high death rate, it's particularly concerning that this virus has widened health inequalities and affected Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities disproportionately, he said, urging continued vigilance among all communities and strictly following the rules of social distancing. The vaccine offers hope for the future. This is a key phase in the fight to end COVID-19 but we must stay the course until the end is truly in sight, he added.
The latest figures come as the UK government is considering further measures in its fight against a high rate of infections, including the possibility of imposing compulsory 10-day hospital quarantine for travellers entering Britain from regions believed to be at a high risk of spreading new variants of coronavirus. The NHS is still under intense pressure across all parts of the country with 37,899 people in UK hospitals with COVID-19 and that includes 4,076 on ventilators, said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, as he reiterated the message for people to continue following lockdown restrictions.
The minister highlighted that his department-led vaccination programme remains on track to meet the government-set target of covering all those under the top priority groups by mid-February, despite vaccine supply pressures. The rate limiting factor to this vaccination programme remains supply. As we know, supply is tight. We've had a very strong performance in this past week. And I'm confident that the NHS will deliver every shot that's made available to it, he said, adding that 78.7 per cent of all over 80s have now been vaccinated as of Monday.
The government has also rolled out a new Community Champions scheme through local councils, with popular celebrities including British Indian actors Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar also launching independent efforts, to help combat reluctance among minority communities towards being vaccinated. It is vital that everyone has access to accurate and up to date information about COVID-19. False information about Covid-19 vaccines could cost lives, said Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.
Over 23 million pounds funding has been allocated to 60 councils and voluntary groups across England to expand work to support those most at risk from COVID-19 and boost vaccine take up. We want all communities to take up the offer of a free vaccine and I have been working closely with faith and community leaders to ensure those who may be at higher risk of harm from this virus know how they can benefit from a vaccine, said Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
The expansion of the Community Champions scheme will help everyone get the advice and information they need about COVID-19 vaccines, he said.