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Coronavirus: UK 'could end up with Europe's worst toll'

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British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

PA

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

Britain could end up with the largest coronavirus death toll in Europe, a top UK adviser has warned, as the numbers passed 10,000.

Jeremy Farrar, part of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK could experience "one of the worst, if not the worst" death rates across the continent.

His comments came after modelling from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), based at the University of Washington in Seattle, predicted Britain's death toll could hit 66,000 - the highest in Europe - and far higher than official estimates of around 20,000. However, the figures have been widely questioned, and the IHME has already been forced to revise between 26,000 and 62,500.

"We appear to be following a slightly worse trajectory than Italy and it is plausible that we might end up with the most in-hospital Covid deaths in Europe," said Professor David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge.

Under the IHME figures, Italy is forecast to have the second-highest death toll, at 20,000. Spain and the Netherlands are predicted to have 18,000 each and France 16,000.

The death toll in Britain rose to 10,631 yesterday after an increase of 737.

But British scientists said the UK may end up with a large death toll simply because of population density, social structure and demographics.

"If you look at the trajectory, we could end up worst, but it's not a macabre competition. It's probably the case that countries with cities like London are going to be hardest hit. You see the same in America with cities like New York, which have a mass transit system, a lot of people coming in and out, and a young population where the virus can spread silently for a while," said James Naismith, professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford.

"And if we have high numbers of infected people we will get high numbers of deaths."

More than eight in 10 people live in urban areas in the UK, and a population of 66 million makes it likely that final figures will be high. But experts said it was important to look at the death rate per million, rather than overall.

Britain's death rate is 145 per million, compared to Italy at 322, and Spain at 355. Germany is much lower at 34 after beginning an intensive programme of testing, contact tracing and isolation early on.

"It is likely that the UK will have one of the largest numbers of total deaths solely because we are the second-largest population in western Europe and EU countries. Only Germany has a larger population. The important figure is the death rate per million," said Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor in the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham.

Mr Farrar said Britain should learn lessons from Germany.

"I do hope we're coming close to the number of new infections reducing, and the numbers of deaths but, yes, the UK is likely to be one of the worst, if not the worst, affected country in Europe," he said.

However, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted yesterday the future of the virus was "unknowable" and would depend on the behaviour of millions of Britons.

Julian Brazier, a former Conservative minister, called for a trial to determine just how many people are dying "with" coronavirus rather than "from" the disease.

"Currently, those dying of Covid-19 are not automatically given autopsies because of the additional risk to NHS staff," he said. "So we have little idea how many of those deaths - still predominantly among elderly people and those with other conditions - are caused by coronavirus, and how many would have sadly happened anyway, in a country where over 12,000 people die in an average week." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent