London, United Kingdom, May 5 – Britain’s death toll from the coronavirus has topped 32,000, according to an updated official count released Tuesday, pushing the country past Italy to become the second-most impacted after the United States.
The new toll, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and regional health bodies, has not yet been incorporated into the government’s daily figures, which records the current number of deaths as 29,427.
That is still higher than Italy, which on Tuesday said it has recorded 29,316 virus fatalities to date, but far short of the US where nearly 69,000 have died in the pandemic.
However, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged against trying to make reliable international comparisons.
“There are different ways of counting deaths… we now publish data that includes all deaths in all settings and not all countries do that,” he said at the daily Downing Street press conference.
“Can you reliably know that all countries are measuring in the same way? And it also depends on how good, frankly, countries are in gathering their statistics.”
Raab called the lives lost “a massive tragedy” and “something in this country, on this scale, in this way, that we’ve never seen before”.
Tuesday’s updated statistics, showing 32,313 total deaths by around April 24, means Britain has probably had the highest official death numbers in Europe for days.
– ‘Real verdict’ –
The toll has jumped dramatically on several occasions as the ONS — which tallies all deaths — has regularly updated its count.
The agency releases figures weekly, covers periods up to two weeks prior and includes coronavirus deaths in care homes and the community.
Until late last month, the health ministry’s daily tallies only counted those who died in hospital after having tested positive for COVID-19.
Even after it began to include all fatalities with the virus listed on the death certificate, its totals have been far short of the later ONS totals.
They have risen dramatically as the extent of the pandemic’s impact on care homes has emerged.
Nearly 6,400 people with coronavirus have died in care homes in England alone, with numbers still rising even as the wider outbreak slows.
More than 2,000 of those were reported in the last week of April — when Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain was “past the peak”.
Meanwhile the ONS has also recorded a total of around 42,000 “excess deaths” — how many more people have died in total than would normally be expected — in the past five weeks.
It suggests Britain’s true death toll from the virus may be even higher.
“I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict on how well countries have done until the pandemic is over,” Raab added.
Britain, in its seventh week of an economically crippling lockdown, is trying to implement a new contact tracing strategy so it can ease the measures.
Johnson is expected to set out his plan to lift the stringent social distancing regime next Sunday, according to media reports.