The number of coronavirus deaths in Britain jumped by 260 in one day to pass 1,000, official data showed Saturday, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself tested positive.
The death toll was 1,019 at 5:00pm (1700 GMT) on Friday, up from 759 at the same time on Thursday, the most recent health ministry figures showed.
More than 17,000 people have also tested positive for COVID-19, including Johnson and his health minister, Matt Hancock, who are both now self-isolating with “mild” symptoms.
Britain was put on lockdown this week to try to stem the spread of the virus, with everybody in the country told to stay home wherever possible, and all non-essential shops and services shut.
The state-run National Health Service has been frantically freeing up hospital beds, and is building a 4,000-bed field hospital in a London conference centre, which is due to open next week.
But there are still fears it cannot cope, and a senior NHS official said on Friday that hospitals in London — the epicentre of the UK outbreak — were facing a “tsunami” of patients.
Stephen Powis, medical director of the NHS in England, told the daily Downing Street news conference on Saturday that it was coping.
“We have not reached capacity. I’m also confident that capacity is expanding, particularly in London, so that we keep ahead of increased patient numbers,” he said.
However, he added that “now is not the time to be complacent”, saying it was vital that everybody followed the advice to stay at home.
“We will see over the course of the next month exactly how that will play out,” he said.
– Burberry hospital gowns –
Amid anger among many medics at a lack of kit, the government has asked manufacturers to switch to making ventilators, scrubs and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks.
The Royal Mint is one of those taking up the challenge, switching production from coins to medical visors.
Luxury fashion house Burberry also announced it was converting its trench coat factory in Yorkshire, northern England, to make non-surgical gowns and masks for patients.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said Saturday that the government would speed up the process of testing new PPE.
It would also reduce red tape so that new suppliers of hand sanitiser “will be able to bring their products to market in a matter of days”.
– ‘No gaps in government’ –
In a video message on Friday from Downing Street, where he lives and works, Johnson said he would continue to lead the government’s response to the outbreak.
He remotely chaired a meeting on the crisis on Saturday morning, Sharma said.
“There are no gaps in the government. We are collectively all working very hard, led by the prime minister,” the business secretary insisted.
Media reports said Johnson’s pregnant partner, Carrie Symonds, who normally lives with him, moved several days ago to the couple’s south London home to self-isolate there.
Another cabinet minister, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, revealed on Saturday that he too was confined to his home after experiencing symptoms, but has not been tested.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, another key player in the UK’s response, also said Friday that he was in self-isolation after experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.