Daily reported Covid-19 death totals to worsen, health minister suggests

Richard Wheeler and Nick Lester, PA Political Staff
·4-min read

A health minister has suggested bleaker numbers are still to come for Britain’s daily reported Covid-19 death totals.

Lord Bethell told peers the reported deaths per day is around 1,000 and “set to increase” given the high rates of infections and hospital admissions.

He also criticised lockdown sceptics for giving the impression that they believe “some lives matter less than others”, as he defended the tougher restrictions for England.

Health minister Lord Bethell
Health minister Lord Bethell (PA)

Peers later formally approved the third lockdown for England on Thursday after it was overwhelmingly backed by MPs.

The UK reported a further 1,041 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday – the highest daily reported total since April 21.

Speaking during oral questions, Conservative former minister Lord Lilley asked why recent figures showed “almost no excess over the normal level of deaths in this country” – adding this “conflicts” with evidence from hospitals.

He added: “Can my noble friend reconcile the figures and the fact?”

Lord Bethell said chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has observed deaths from “other flus are down” partly because of social distancing linked to lockdowns.

Lord Bethell went on: “He has also pointed out the very sad but I’m afraid inevitable possibility that the large amount of infection that has grown up over the last few weeks will in time lead to further deaths.

“This is an uncomfortable piece of speculation but as sure as night follows day, I’m afraid infections and hospitalisations will lead to further deaths.

“We’re running at about nearly 1,000-a-day at the moment, and that number is set to increase.”

Lord Bethell also said he welcomed being challenged on any subject, but added: “Underlying many of the objections to lockdown does appear to be an assumption that some lives matter less than others.

“And whether you’re asthmatic, diabetic, infirm or just old, I think your life is worth just as much as everybody else’s and that’s why I’m extremely proud of the national effort to work together to protect those who are less advantaged and to protect our health service.”

Conservative former minister Lord Robathan earlier said Covid-19 cases have kept rising despite “ever more stringent restrictions” such as Tier 3 and Tier 4 and the “failed” circuit-breaker lockdown in Wales.

He said: “Please will my noble friend go back to the department and instigate a detailed examination of why these hugely damaging restrictions have not seen a reduction in infections, hospitalisations and deaths?”

Lord Bethell insisted “lockdowns do work” before adding: “Tier 3 was enough for the original variant, it isn’t for the new variant – the new variant is 70% more transmissible, that has hit our country hard and that is why we have to have this new horrible lockdown.”

A Conservative former health secretary later advised that social distancing will have to be maintained even when the most at-risk people have been given the Covid-19 vaccine.

Speaking during the debate on the lockdown regulations, Lord Lansley said there is a “race against the virus” to protect people – adding tough restrictions “must be persisted with” to help turn the tide.

He said: “A relaxation of restrictions can only happen when the alert level is brought down to three, and not fully relaxed until the alert level is down to two.

“Even if the most at-risk of the population are immunised, this is not 100% effective and we should maintain social distancing while we drive cases down to the point where test, track and trace can suppress outbreaks.”

Former Brexit Party MEP Baroness Fox of Buckley argued people should not “be cowed into fatalistically accepting the efficacy or morality” of lockdowns and believed it would be “irresponsible not to ask sceptical questions”.

The non-affiliated peer said: “Scepticism is branded dangerous and irresponsible … but if this Government declares it is illegal to leave your home without a reasonable excuse and accumulates a colossal amount of state power with unintended but devastating collateral damage inflicted on society, it would be irresponsible not to ask sceptical questions.”

Tory former minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe also argued the Government would be judged on the effective rollout of the vaccine.

Urging the involvement of the private sector, she told the Lords that “many people will be prepared to pay to get a dose without affecting the NHS rollout”.

Baroness Altmann, another Conservative former minister, said: “People are not objects which can be put in a box and locked away.

“Where is the impact assessment on human lives or a matrix that demonstrates how each element works?”