UK could see 40,000 coronavirus deaths, UEA professor warns

PUBLISHED: 17:27 25 April 2020 | UPDATED: 18:37 25 April 2020

Home secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Pic: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire


Home secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Pic: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire .

The United Kingdom is on course to have one of the highest coronavirus mortality rates in Europe and could top 40,000 deaths, according to a University of East Anglia professor.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEAPaul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

On Saturday, it was confirmed the UK has become the fifth country to pass 20,000 deaths in hospital from COVID-19, behind the US, Italy, Spain and France.

The grim milestone came as the coronavirus lockdown continued into its fifth weekend, with latest figures also showing there have now been 225 deaths of patients with coronavirus in Norfolk’s hospitals.

MORE: Woman in her 30s among six further coronavirus patient deaths in Norfolk

The Department of Health said a total of 20,319 patients had died in the UK’s hospitals after testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK as of 5pm on Friday - up by 813 from the day before.

That figure 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 and the 20,000 figure was probably exceeded some days ago.

And 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.

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.

Asked about the 20,000 milestone at Saturday’s press conference - Prof Powis said: “When (we) made that comment a number of weeks ago, what we were emphasising is that this is a new virus, a global pandemic, a once-in-a-century global health crisis.

“And this was going to be a huge challenge not just for the UK, but for every country.”

Home secretary Priti Patel described the coronavirus death toll in UK hospitals passing 20,000 as a “deeply tragic and moving moment” and warned that “we are not out of the woods yet”.

She said the 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”.

She said it would be “irresponsible” to give a date for when schools might reopen and denied there were “mixed messages” from the government after DIY stores re-opened.

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