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UK virus death toll feared much higher than official figures


Britain’s coronavirus death toll is expected to leap, with statistics showing many deaths in aged care and private homes not included in official government figures are likely to mean the true toll is more than 50 per cent higher.

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The Office for National Statistics said the death toll involving COVID-19 in England and Wales was 52 per cent higher than the daily figures for deaths in hospitals released by the government as of April 17, according to official data that include deaths in the community.

The ONS said 21,284 people overall had died as of April 17 with mentions of COVID-19 on their death certificates.

That was some 52 per cent higher than the 13,917 people who died in hospitals, as published by the government on April 18.

That takes the United Kingdom’s total death toll as of April 17 beyond those reported by France – which also includes deaths in care homes – and Spain, according to Reuters calculations, though lower than Italy’s total toll.

A trebling of deaths in care homes in England and Wales within the space of a few weeks contributed to a far higher toll.

The ONS said that overall 7,316 people had died in care homes during the 16th week of 2020, almost treble the number reported in the 13th week.

According to figures released by the health ministry on Monday, 21,092 people had died in hospitals across the United Kingdom after testing positive for COVID-19.

“The United Kingdom is going to be right up there among the worst-hit nations in the initial surge,” said Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that daily figures for deaths in the community would be published from Wednesday.

“I would push my neck out that it is plausible that there are now as many COVID-labelled deaths occurring out of hospital as there are in hospitals in England,” said David Spiegelhalter, professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge.

US virus deaths average 2000 a day for April

US coronavirus cases are approaching 1 million, having doubled in 18 days, and make up one-third of all infections in the world, according to a Reuters tally.

More than 56,000 Americans have died of the highly contagious respiratory illness COVID-19 caused by the virus, an average of about 2000 a day this month, according to the tally.

The actual number of cases is thought to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials have limited testing capacity.

About 30 per cent of the cases have occurred in New York state, the epicentre of the US outbreak, followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania.

Of the top 20 most severely affected countries, the United States ranks fifth based on cases per capita, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has about 30 cases per 10,000 people. Spain ranks first at over 48 cases per 10,000 people, followed by Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.

US coronavirus deaths, the highest in the world, now exceed the total number of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War – 36,516. Coronavirus deaths total just below the 58,220 Americans killed during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975.

The coronavirus has killed more people in the United States than the seasonal flu in recent years, except for the 2017-2018 season, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Flu deaths range from a low of 12,000 in the 2011-2012 season to a high of 61,000 during 2017-2018.

Coronavirus deaths in the United States fall far short of the Spanish flu, which began in 1918 and killed 675,000 Americans, according to the CDC.

Italy toll approaches 30,000

Italy’s tally of coronavirus infections has surpassed 200,000 while the death toll from the epidemic rose by 382 to 27,359.

The total number of confirmed infections rose to 201,505, up 1.05 per cent from the previous day, the Civil Protection Agency said.

More encouragingly, the number of active cases and the number of patients under intensive care both went down, by 608 to 105,205 and by 93 to 1863 respectively.

France’s virus death toll rose by 367 overnight to 23,660 while the number of confirmed cases was up 1520 at 129,859, the health ministry says.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament the country would not end its lockdown unless the number of new cases of coronavirus infection drops below 3000 per day.

The death tally has increased 1.6 per cent on Tuesday compared to Monday, with the rate slightly slowing over 24 hours.

The number of people in hospital with the COVID-19 infection fell further to 27,484 from 28,055 on Monday and the number of people in intensive care fell to 4,387 from 4,608 on Monday.

Both have been on a downward trend for at least two weeks.

The French soccer and rugby leagues will not complete their matches this season after the government called them off as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“The 2019-20 season of professional sport, notably soccer, won’t be able to resume,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.

Spain prepares to end lockdown

Spain’s death toll rose by 301 overnight to take its total to 23,800, but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez presented a plan to gradually lift restrictions in place to contain the coronavirus after more than six weeks of life under one of Europe’s strictest curfews.

The pandemic restrictions are to be lifted in four phases, each lasting two weeks, in a process that is expected to be complete by the end of June, Sanchez said.

During these phases, more and more shops, restaurants and churches are to be reopened, followed by gyms, cinemas, theatres and hotels.

Initially, 30 per cent of the usual number of customers would be allowed in, gradually rising to 50 per cent.

The approach applies throughout the country, but may be implemented at different speeds depending on how severely regions were affected by the virus.

Dutch toll rises

The Netherlands’ number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen by 171 to 38,416 health authorities say, with 48 new deaths.

The country’s death toll stands at 4566, the Netherlands’ Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said in its daily update.

The RIVM cautioned it only reports confirmed cases, and actual numbers are higher.

India considers extending lockdown

India is nearing 30,000 coronavirus infections, with 1543 more cases overnight and a total 934 virus-linked deaths.

Neighbouring Pakistan also recorded a jump in cases and deaths from COVID-19, and there were concerns that many people were gathering in mosques for Ramadan prayers despite strict rules on distancing.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has allowed some farm and industrial activity to resume in less-affected rural areas after the shutdown of the economy left millions without work and short of food and shelter.

But with about 1500 new cases each day on an average over the past week, the government is facing calls not to ease further and instead keep the world’s biggest shutdown in force beyond May 3, even though the economic distress is deepening.

“India is still on the ascending limb of the epidemic curve and so to ease the restrictions will mean the cases will multiply uncontrollably,” said Dr S.K. Sarin, who leads a government group tackling the outbreak in the capital, New Delhi, one of the hotspots.

But India’s healthcare systems are much more limited than those in developed countries and the fear is that a surge in cases of the kind seen in the United States and Italy could easily overwhelm public hospitals.

“We are recommending that the lockdown be extended after May 3. No mode of public transport be allowed between states,” said Pramod Sawant, chief minister of Goa that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to its beaches from within India and overseas.

-with AAP

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