The Spectator

Covid-19 update: UK death toll nears 50,000

Covid-19 update: UK death toll nears 50,000
Coral Gables, Florida: A young girl wearing a face mask holds a sign during protest for George Floyd (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images)
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News and analysis 

  • Public Health England has released its report on the effects of Covid-19 on BAME communities, which finds that black and Asian ethnic groups are ‘up to twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those from a white British background’. The biggest risk factors are age and gender.
  • The ONS reports an additional 51,466 deaths this year over the five-year average, as the death toll linked to Covid-19 approaches 50,000. Details below.
  • Half of UK hospitals have reported no Covid-19 deaths in the past two days.
  • The government will no longer hold its daily Covid-19 press conferences on weekends.
  • The government is also reviewing plans for arrivals to the UK to undergo a 14-day quarantine. James Forsyth investigates the growing Tory backbench rebellion against the policy.
  • Between 30 to 60 per cent of children were kept at home yesterday as primary school classes resumed for pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. Meanwhile the government is reviewing its plan to get every primary school student back to class before the summer holidays.
  • The Spectator is to repay furlough money from the government after subscriptions rose faster than expected.
  • The number of additional students that UK universities can recruit this year has been capped at 5 per cent. The limit is to stop top universities from hoarding pupils amid a shortfall of applications.
  • MPs are due to vote today on whether to resume in-person voting in parliament. Katy Balls has the details.
  • Oxfam will begin reopening its shops from 15 June. The charity has asked people to call in advance before leaving donations due to limited storage

‘They’ll be stuck in her in-tray for 14 days.’

UK death toll nears 50,000

When the UK locked down, Imperial College London modelling said there would be a strong dividend from the policy: deaths as low as 5,600. Professor Neil Ferguson was more cautious, saying 20,000. This morning’s data drop from the Office for National Statistics points to 50,000. Excess deaths in England and Wales were 12,288 in the week ending 22 May: an increase of 2,348 compared with the five-year average, but the lowest on record since the end of March, when lockdown was just starting. Of the 12,288 total deaths, 21 per cent registered Covid-19 on the death certificate, compared with more than 25 per cent the week before. The substantial dip in the virus’s prevalence, especially in urban areas like London, combined with the R number (i.e. the rate of infection) hovering below 1 is translating week by week into a meaningful reduction in excess deaths, as well as a smaller percentage of deaths linked to Covid-19.

This explains UK caution. Professor Ferguson confirmed this morning that public obedience to lockdown was far greater than Imperial’s models expected, so what went wrong? Ministers started the pandemic showing graphs which they believed would show Britain had been far less hit than other countries – due to the fact that we’d enforced a full lockdown at an earlier stage in the pandemic. These charts are no longer published and the UK has become one of the hardest-hit countries by this pandemic. Three major questions now linger as more health and economic data is released in the coming weeks. What has lockdown achieved? Will the UK be in a cluster of countries with relatively high death tolls, or an outlier, especially in Europe? And as the UK starts slowly rolling back its furlough scheme and encouraging more economic activity, will its decision to lift lockdown slowly render it one of the most damaged economies as well as the worst-hit?

In pictures
Coral Gables, Florida: A young girl wearing a face mask holds a sign during protest for George Floyd (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images)
In words
This virus will spread more. I have to say it with regret that there will be more deaths. If people do take care they can live with the virus.

– Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said his country cannot afford to lockdown any longer. Restrictions are being lifted across the country despite rising infections.

A testing quandary

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Covid-19 testing in the UK has been significantly ramped up, but there is still concern that it may not be sufficient to make the UK’s test, track and trace scheme successful. There has always been scepticism surrounding the government’s official test figures, including when ministers met their 100,000 target at the end of April by including at-home kits that had been posted out but not processed. Today, UK Statistics Authority chairman Sir David Norgrove threw more cold water on the government’s efforts, highlighting that the UK still includes tests posted out in the overall figures – a misleading combination that inflates the numbers. Sir David also questions whether the data is being reported in a way that best helps Britain tackle the virus, or makes the Department of Health look good: ‘The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding,’ he says.

Steerpike has the details on Coffee House.

Global news

  • A WHO survey of 155 countries has found that the pandemic has disrupted services for 53 per cent of hypertension treatments, 49 per cent of diabetes treatment, 42 per cent of cancer treatments, and 31 per cent of cardiovascular emergencies. Low-income countries have been worst affected.
  • New Zealand may lift all coronavirus restrictions from next week, but borders will remain closed. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi has banned movement in and out of the city for a week from today.
  • A UN agency has said that airlines should restrict passengers’ access to toilets to preserve safety on flights during the pandemic.
  • Spain reported no deaths from Covid-19 on Monday. However the country is set to extend its lockdown until 21 June.
  • Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown has been cancelled for the first time. Authorities cited safety concerns over the pandemic.
  • The crew of the upcoming blockbuster film Avatar 2 have been given special permission to land in New Zealand and begin shooting once they complete a 14-day quarantine.

Our latest podcast
Research: Is Covid-19 climate sensitive?

The weather is often correlated to viruses, with winter singled out as ‘flu season’ and so on. Is the same true for Covid-19? According to a study conducted by the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, there is a link between the climate and the spread of the virus. In a study of 749 cases of people locally acquiring Covid-19, researchers found ‘a reduction in relative humidity of 1 per cent was predicted to be associated with an increase of Covid-19 cases by 6.11 per cent’. This would suggest that regions with lower humidity would expect to see more Covid-19 cases – something the researchers say ‘public health system(s) should anticipate’ when factoring in local climates.


  • Some 8.7 million people in the UK have been placed on furlough at a cost of £17.5 billion, according to new Treasury figures.
  • Mortgage approvals in the UK fell to 15,800 in April, the lowest level since records began in 1993. House prices fell by 1.7 per cent in May, the largest fall for more than a decade. However, demand for rental accommodation has risen22 per cent on the previous year.
  • The pandemic could cost the US $8 trillion (£6.4 trillion) by 2030, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Former prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major are among 225 signatories calling for the G20 to deliver a $2.5 trillion pandemic support package for developing countries.
  • Card Factory has seen online sales rise by 302 per cent since lockdown began. The greeting card retailer will begin to reopen stores from 15 June.
  • P&O Cruises has cancelled all sailings until 15 October because of the pandemic.

More from The Spectator 

A statement from the chairman of The SpectatorAndrew Neil

Why can’t Neil Ferguson’s Imperial model be replicated?Ross Clark

Parliament’s socially distanced voting system may just fall apartKaty Balls

The double standards of the London protestorsBrendan O’Neill

UK Statistics Authority questions Hancock’s figuresSteerpike

Self-isolation tips from Spectator Life

Weekly trivia: what are Rafael Nadal’s tennis superstitions? – Mark Mason

8 secret holiday spots in France and Spain – Marie- Claire Chappet

How to make cheat’s risotto - The Vintage Chef, Olivia Potts