Coronavirus has wreaked its grimmest day yet on the UK after the number of daily deaths passed the peaks in Spain and Italy for the first time.
Some 8,958 people died in the UK after testing positive for Covid-19 as of 5pm yesterday – a rise of 980 on the day before.
The daily rise of 980 outstrips the UK’s previous biggest jump of 938.
And for the first time it means the UK has recorded more new deaths in one day than Italy and Spain did at their peak.
Italy recorded 971 new deaths on March 28 while Spain recorded 950 on April 3, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The grim toll will likely raise fresh questions about the speed of the UK government’s response.
A nationwide lockdown was announced on March 26 but critics accused the government of not unveiling it quickly enough.
Large events and festivals continued to go ahead until days before the lockdown, when the UK government’s advisors decided that merely slowing the spread of the virus could still lead to 250,000 deaths.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed the deaths total at a daily Downing Street press conference.
He said: “Behind each one is a name, a loss and a family that will never be the same again.”
Deputy Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam said the UK was still in a “dangerous phase” of the epidemic. He added: “This is not over.”
And Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May made an impassioned plea for people to stay at home over the Easter Weekend to “protect my staff”.
Asked if it was frustrating to see people flouting lockdown measures, she said: “It’s very, very frustrating. It’s personally frustrating to see people clearly not doing social distancing and clearly coming out in large groups.
“I was only on the way here going over Westminster Bridge, seeing a whole horde of cyclists coming together. It is enormously frustrating.”
She added: “There’s also, still, occasions where my colleagues are getting abuse from their neighbours for driving off to work.”
She said Sam, a mental health nurse in the East of England, had received “grief” from her neighbours for travelling to work.
“Our nurses, our healthcare staff need to be able to get to work. It’s right and proper they do, but my ask of everybody – please, stay at home, save lives and protect my staff.”
The UK’s daily increase in deaths was just outstripped today by France, which recorded a tragic rise of 987.
There has been a steady increase in the number of people occupying hospital beds between March 20 and April 9.
But amid the huge toll of deaths, the number of people in critical care in London dropped in the last day – the first major fall in the capital since the pandemic began.
And Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the UK’s coronavirus cases curve could be showing signs it is beginning to ‘bend,’ telling Brits: “Your hard work is beginning to pay off.”
Figures show the “curve is bending”, he said, but added: “It’s impossible to say we have peaked. London has gone down in the last day, but Yorkshire and the North East has gone up.”
Urging people to stay at home, Mr Hancock said: “This is a national effort, and every single person in this country can play their part in this plan.
“This Easter will be another test of the nation’s resolve. It’s a time of year when people normally come together.
“But however warm the weather, however tempting your local beach or park, we need everyone to stay at home.
“Because in hospitals across the country, NHS staff are battling day and night to keep desperately sick people breathing, and they need you to stay at home.”
Mr Hancock also revealed there is “finally” enough capacity to test all sick NHS staff for coronavirus.
He told the press conference any NHS staff member who needs a test for Covid-19 will now be able to get one.
Officials said that means any NHS staff member who has symptoms, who who is in a household where someone has symptoms, can be tested.
This will allow NHS staff to return to work if they do not have Covid-19, boosting the stricken front line.
But it’s understood there are not yet enough tests for all social care staff who need one.
Instead Mr Hancock said “all key social care staff” can now get tests, if they need them.
There is not yet a definition of “key” social care staff but it is thought to include those who work within the NHS.