By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally of official data sources that highlighted the country’s place as one of the worst hit in the world.
New data from Scotland brought the toll to 50,059, a dire milestone for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he tries to ease the stringent coronavirus lockdown.
The figure is the highest in Europe and puts the UK behind only the much larger United States in a pandemic that has killed more than 379,000 people around the world.
Such a large death toll has prompted criticism of Johnson, who opposition parties say was too slow to impose a lockdown or protect the elderly in nursing homes or to build a test and trace system.
The government says that while it may have made some mistakes, it is grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza outbreak and that it has ensured the health service was not overwhelmed.
The Reuters tally comprises fatalities where COVID-19 was mentioned on death certificates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland up to May 22, and up to May 31 in Scotland.
Unlike the daily death toll published by the government, the death certificate figures include suspected cases.
The tally also incorporates deaths that took place in English hospitals after May 23, and in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The death toll surpasses even some projections by the government’s own scientific advisers.
In March, Britain’s chief scientific adviser said keeping deaths below 20,000 would be a “good outcome”. In April, Reuters reported the government’s worst-case scenario was 50,000 deaths.
Epidemiologists say excess mortality – deaths from all causes that exceed the five-year average for the time of year – is the best way of gauging deaths from a disease outbreak because it is internationally comparable.
Although these figures take longer to compile, Britain is faring badly here too.
Some 62,000 more people than usual have died in the United Kingdom during this year’s pandemic, according to the latest available data, an expert from the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.
Editing by Stephen Addison.