Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he owed his life to hospital staff, in his first comments since leaving intensive care for coronavirus treatment, while his government came under mounting pressure to explain why the death toll was rising so fast.
Britain has reported two days in a row of hospital deaths increasing by more than 900 people. Friday’s death toll of 980 surpassed the highest recorded in a single day in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe so far.
The British government has had to defend its response, which has included carrying out far less testing than in some other European countries and ordering a lockdown that came comparatively late. Ministers have also resisted apologizing for a shortage of protective gear for hospital staff.
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Johnson, 55, was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital in central London on April 5, suffering from persistent symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. On April 6 he was moved into intensive care, where he remained until April 9.
“I can’t thank them enough. I owe them my life,” Johnson said of the staff of Britain’s state-run National Health Service at the hospital, in his first comments since being moved back to a regular ward. The comments were released to journalists and confirmed by his office on Sunday.
His Downing Street office said Johnson “continues to make very good progress”. In his absence, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is deputising for him.
In a sign of the gravity of the emergency, Queen Elizabeth issued her second rallying message in a week, telling the nation that “coronavirus will not overcome us.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, delivered an Easter Sunday sermon from the kitchen of his London flat, recorded on his computer tablet.
“We do have a plan”
Meanwhile, ministers were facing uncomfortable questions about whether the alarming rise in the death toll was due to the relatively late decision to impose a lockdown on March 23.
“Well, different countries have different cycles in terms of where they are in terms of the spread of this pandemic,” business minister Alok Sharma told Sky News on Sunday when asked to explain the reason for the poor UK numbers.
Health minister Matt Hancock suggested during a BBC radio interview on Saturday that Britain’s daily death toll had exceeded Italy’s because it had a bigger population. The UK population is about 66 million while Italy’s is 60 million.
When asked why Germany, with a population of about 83 million, had much lower numbers, he said: “The German situation is one I look at a lot.”
Ministers have insisted that the government took the right steps at the right time, guided by scientific advice.
NHS doctors and nurses across the country are complaining about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). About 20 frontline medical staff are reported to have died of the disease after treating patients.
Asked on Sunday whether he would apologize over the loss of life in the NHS and the lack of PPE, Sharma replied: “I said I was sorry for the loss of any life in this pandemic but we are facing an unprecedented situation.
“We do have a plan, we are putting that in place, we’re making sure that there are millions of PPE kits going out to the frontline, and of course we need to be doing even more.”
The new leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said the government should acknowledge failings more openly.
“I think it would be smart of the government to acknowledge that their ambition for the equipment to be where it should be ... isn’t being matched and probably just apologize for that and get on with it,” he told Sky News.