| 6.9°C Dublin

UK surpasses Italy with Europe's highest official coronavirus death toll

Close

People and buses are seen on London Bridge at the height of the traditional morning rush hour, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, London, Britain, May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

People and buses are seen on London Bridge at the height of the traditional morning rush hour, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, London, Britain, May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

REUTERS

People and buses are seen on London Bridge at the height of the traditional morning rush hour, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, London, Britain, May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain has overtaken Italy to report the highest official death toll from coronavirus in Europe with more than 32,000 deaths, figures released on Tuesday showed.

The high death toll could increase political pressure on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who waited longer than other European leaders to order a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus in March.

Weekly figures from Britain's national statistics office added more than 7,000 deaths in England and Wales, raising the total for the United Kingdom to 32,313.

The figure is one of several methods for calculating deaths and difficult to compare with other countries, but it offers the clearest sign yet that Britain could emerge as the worst-hit country in Europe, despite being hit later than other countries.

Opposition parties have raised questions about Johnson's initial decision to delay a lockdown at a time when hospitals in Italy were already being overrun.

They also say his government was too slow to introduce mass testing and provide enough protective equipment to hospitals.

The true figure for deaths from coronavirus may be even higher. The Office of National Statistics said 33,593 more people had died than average up to April 24 in England and Wales, compared to 27,365 cases in which coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificates.

It comes as the British government's chief scientific adviser said if the UK had ramped up testing for COVID-19 earlier, it could have been beneficial.

Asked by the British parliament's Health and Social Care Committee to reflect on what he would have done differently, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said: "I'd be amazed, if when we look back, we don't think: yep we could have done something differently there."

"In the early phases, I think if we'd managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial. And you know for all sorts of reasons that didn't happen," Valance said.

"It's completely wrong to think of testing as the answer - its just part of the system that you need to get right," he said.

The British government has ramped up testing over the past month and 945,299 people have so far been tested, though opposition parties say Prime Minister Boris Johnson was too slow to increase testing.

"I don't think it's chance that two huge cosmopolitan well-connected cities with multiple imports from all over the world - New York and London - got very hard hit," Vallance said.

Reuters