Scientists have snapped at Boris Johnson in the UK and say more deaths are yet to come as bleak photos showed cemeteries filling up.
The UK’s appalling COVID-19 death toll of 100,000 follows a “legacy of poor decisions” that could see another 50,000 deaths this year, scientists said as bleak photos showed cemeteries filling up.
Boris Johnson’s government was accused of “monumental mistakes” and a “litany of errors” after the Prime Minister said he was “deeply sorry for every life that has been lost”.
Images of Sutton New Hall Cemetery in England’s West Midlands released on Wednesday show an excavator at work as graveyards battle to keep up with the number of bodies arriving as the virus ravages the nation.
Opposition Leader Keir Starmer said that behind the tragic milestone of 100,000 deaths were grieving friends and relatives. “The question on everyone’s lips this morning is, why?” said the Labour leader, challenging Mr Johnson to explain the UK’s catastrophic failure.
Mr Johnson said he mourned “every death in this pandemic” and took “full responsibility” along with his government for all actions taken to fight the virus. He said that there would be “a time when we must learn the lessons of what has happened, reflect on them and prepare” but added: “I don’t think that moment is now, when we are in the throes of fighting this wave of the new variant, when 37,000 people are struggling with COVID in our hospitals.”
He said the focus was instead on coming together and continuing to roll out the “fastest vaccination program in Europe”.
The UK became the first in Europe to pass the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths and only the fifth in the world to reach the shocking figure. The news came after 1631 fatalities were reported on Tuesday, highlighting serious errors during the pandemic. The UK has now reported almost 3.7 million cases as it races to deliver the jab to health workers and older residents.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told BBC Breakfast that the number of deaths would not decline quickly “and even then it will remain for a while at a really high rate.”
She said early mistakes on lockdown rules and the highly contagious mutant strain sweeping the UK had contributed to the current crisis. “I think where we are now is a legacy of poor decisions that were taken when we eased restrictions earlier in the year, particularly around travel etc, and then of course the variant has created extra pressure,” she said.
These errors included not locking down early enough, lifting restrictions too quickly, a lack of PPE and an inadequate test and trace system.
The UK has now introduced hotel quarantine for arriving plane passengers from 22 countries deemed “high risk”. Many MPs wanted to see a blanket policy requiring arrivals from all destinations to enter hotel quarantine, as seen in Australia, but government ministers decided against enforcing the rule for everyone.
“Yet again it seems proposed measures on hotel quarantine don’t go far enough & risks new strains entering the UK,” said Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds on Twitter.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told the BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday thatthere could be another 50,000 deaths this year.
“It would really not surprise me if we’re looking at another 40,000 or 50,000 deaths before this burns out,” he said, adding that “each one represents also probably four or five people that survive but are damaged by COVID”.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC Radio 4: “I just don’t believe that the government did do everything we could.”
The Labour MP said that while he accepted these are challenging times for any government, Mr Johnson had got it wrong and “monumental mistakes have been made, we have had a litany of errors in the last 12 months, and he didn’t have to make these mistakes.”
“It’s just horrendous on every front,” Mr Ashworth added.
Schools in the UK will not open in mid-February as some had hoped, but Mr Johnson said they may be able to open from March 8. He said there was not enough data yet to decide when to end the lockdown, which is having a destructive impact on families, businesses and workers as well as crippling the health system.