The death toll from coronavirus has risen sharply to more than 26,000 after the government included fatalities from outside hospitals in its daily announcement for the first time.
It means a total of 26,097 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community in the UK after contracting COVID-19 – a rise of 4,419 from Tuesday.
The sharp increase means the UK’s toll makes it the second worst hit country in Europe, based on each nation’s official reporting of deaths, and globally ranks behind only the US’s total, which is above 50,000, and Italy.
Previously, the UK government reported deaths taking place in hospitals, with care home deaths in England and Wales later appearing in Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
A bulk of the newly reported deaths happened between March 2 and April 28 “so they don’t represent a sudden surge in the number of deaths”, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said.
There are now 165,221 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, a rise of 4,076 from yesterday.
The absence of those figures has skewed the nation’s true COVID-19 death toll.
There are also 3.1 million confirmed cases around the world, with 217,000 deaths and 932,000 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said: “Every death from COVID-19 is a tragedy.
“Tracking the daily death count is vital to help us understand the impact of the disease.
“These more complete data will give us a fuller and more up-to-date picture of deaths in England and will inform the Government’s approach as we continue to protect the public.”
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A chart shown during a government presentation on Tuesday included care home deaths, and it displayed how the UK’s death toll trajectory was worse than other badly-hit European countries like Italy, Spain and France.
Italy has 27,359 deaths and Spain 24,275, according to Johns Hopkins University, although Dr Doyle said there are doubts if Spain adds in its care home deaths.
George Eustice, the environment secretary, told Sky News earlier “it may well be” that the UK passes the tolls seen in those countries, adding “we don't know that at the moment”.
The ONS said the new method of reporting provides “a count of all deaths where a positive test for COVID-19 has been confirmed, wherever the death took place” in England, while “comparable figures ... from Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland)” are included.
“This is the most reliable source for daily reporting for an immediate understanding of the pandemic.”
Concerns about a spike in cancer deaths amid the coronavirus outbreak have been voiced.
A study has found 18,000 more deaths due to cancer could happen as patients are not accessing health services.
NHS England cancer clinical director Professor Peter Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I completely understand that people are worried and frightened about leaving the house, about going to hospitals, about going to appointments, but we’ve taken a huge amount of trouble to make sure that cancer services can be delivered in a safe and protected way.
“Of course the numbers of people coming forward have gone down and we’re very worried about that, we’re very worried about people being at home with cancers that need to be looked at.”
He added that “we’re doing everything we can to avoid” a big rise in cancer deaths and added: “We anticipated this problem and we expected we would have to deal with this.”
The government is trying to ramp up its testing capacity to detect active cases and aimed for 100,000 a day before the end of April.
Professor John Newton, of Public Health England, also told the programme that authorities are “pretty confident” they will reach that target and would know by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, environment secretary George Eustice has insisted the government had not watered down one of its tests to determine if the coronavirus lockdown could be eased up.
One of the tests says the government should be satisfied the country would avoid a second peak of infections – but reports pointed out that in a government slideshow yesterday, the language had changed to specify the government needed to avoid a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS.
Eustice told Sky News: “It has always been the case that we want to avoid that second peak because we want to avoid our NHS being overwhelmed.
“It was simply the case that on one slide last week that second part of the sentence was omitted and it was added back in on a slide yesterday.
“I think there’s a sort of obsession about nothing over this, to be honest.”