UK death toll from coronavirus surpasses Italy’s to become 2nd worst in world
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UK death toll from coronavirus surpasses Italy’s to become 2nd worst in world

Britain confirms nearly 30,000 deaths, even as fatalities and hospitalization decline and the government prepares to take tentative steps out of lockdown

A cyclist passes artwork celebrating the National Health Service (NHS) in central London, May 5, 2020, during the nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)
A cyclist passes artwork celebrating the National Health Service (NHS) in central London, May 5, 2020, during the nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

LONDON — Britain on Tuesday became the country with the world’s second-highest cumulative coronavirus death toll, behind only the United States, after updated official figures released on Tuesday showed it had surpassed Italy.

The grim milestone seemed unthinkable just two months ago, when the country recorded its first fatality and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “extremely well prepared (for) all eventualities.”

It came as global deaths topped a quarter of a million, the majority in hard-hit Europe, though several of the worst-affected countries are finally seeing deaths and new infections drop.

The British government said another 693 people died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings after testing positive for COVID-19, taking the total to 29,427 — above Italy’s 29,315.

Though the UK’s coronavirus-related death toll, when measured on a seven-day rolling basis, has been falling consistently for the past three to four weeks, the country is around two weeks behind Italy in terms of the pandemic. The tallies are likely underestimates because they do not include suspected coronavirus deaths.

Taking into account countries’ populations, the UK’s death rate is below those in Italy, Spain and Belgium. And the US is below them all even though it has the highest number of registered COVID-19 deaths with more than 70,000.

In the US, some states took continued steps to lift the lockdown restrictions that have thrown millions out of work, even as the country recorded thousands of new infections and deaths every day.

Underscoring the stakes, New York state reported 1,700 more people had died in nursing homes than it had previously counted.

US President Donald Trump headed for Arizona to visit a Honeywell factory that makes respirator masks, in what could be a return to more regular travel for the president.

“The people of our country should think of themselves as warriors. Our country has to open,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One.

Medical workers take in patients outside of a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center on May 04, 2020 in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

 

The British government said about 28,700 people with COVID-19 had died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings, while Italy reported close to 29,100 fatalities. Both figures are almost certainly underestimates because they include only people who tested positive, and testing was not widespread in Italian and British nursing homes until recently.

Yet official British statistics released Tuesday on people who died with suspected COVID-19 put the country’s toll at more than 30,000 as of April 24, or one-third higher than the government count at the time. A comparable figure for Italy was not available.

Customers adhere to social distancing as they queue to enter a recently re-opened Pret-A-Manger shop which had originally closed-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in London on May 4, 2020 (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

In Russia, the number of infections rose sharply again, with Moscow reporting more than 10,000 new cases for three days in a row.

At the same time, many European countries that have relaxed strict lockdowns after new infections tapered off were watching their virus numbers warily.

“We know with great certainty that there will be a second wave — the majority of scientists are sure of that. And many also assume that there will be a third wave,” said Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s national disease control center.

French President Emmanuel Macron took heat from parents, teachers and mayors, who pushed back against his plans to gradually reopen schools next week with classes capped at 15 students.

Italy this week allowed 4.4 million people to go back to work and eased restrictions on personal movement for the first time in two months.

An employee (L) undergoes a body temperature scan as part of health protocol at the multinational equipment manufacturer Liebherr plant that makes gear-cutting tools, on May 5, 2020 at the plant in Collegno near Turin, during the country’s lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Marco Bertorello/AFP)

The coming weeks are essentially an “experiment” to see how the infection curve reacts to the easing of the West’s first lockdown, the head of infectious diseases at Italy’s Superior Institute of Health told the La Repubblica newspaper.

“We are not out of the epidemic. We are still in it,” said Dr. Giovanni Rezza. “I don’t want people to think there’s no more risk and we go back to normal.”

Widely seen as a success story, South Korea reported only three new cases of the virus, its lowest total since Feb. 18. Schools will reopen in phases starting with high school seniors on May 13, but the highlight Tuesday was the baseball season, which began with no spectators allowed.

Cheerleaders danced beneath rows of empty seats, and umpires wore face masks as one of the world’s first major professional sports returned to action in games broadcast around the globe. Players and coaches were subjected to fever screenings before entering stadiums.

With major league baseball in the US still mulling plans on what to do about its own season, American sports network ESPN signed a contract to broadcast six South Korean games per week, starting with Tuesday’s season opener between Daegu’s Samsung Lions and Changwon-based NC Dinos, which the Dinos won 4-0.

Medical workers take in patients outside of a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center on May 04, 2020 in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The country’s professional soccer leagues will kick off Friday, also without spectators.

In China, it has been three weeks since any new deaths have been reported in the country where the pandemic began late last year. Just one new case of infection was confirmed, and fewer than 400 patients are still being treated for COVID-19, health officials said.

Other places in the Asia-Pacific region have also suppressed outbreaks, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, which has reported no new cases for two days. But experts said India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has yet to see the peak of its outbreak.

In Britain, which unlike other European nations remains in lockdown, a trial began Tuesday of a mobile phone app that authorities hope will help contain the outbreak. The app, which warns people if they have been near an infected individual, is being tested on the Isle of Wight, off England’s southern coast. The government hopes it can be rolled out across the country later this month.

In France, scientists released a study saying they may have identified a possible case of the coronavirus dating back to December, about a month before the first cases were officially confirmed in Europe. Outside experts said the study was interesting but not conclusive.

A tobacconist displays a face mask she sells in her shop on May 5, 2020 in Savenay, outside Nantes, on the 50th day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the novel coronavirus. (Loic VENANCE / AFP)

Governments around the world have reported 3.6 million infections and more than a quarter-million deaths, including more than 69,000 in the United States. Deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the severe strain the disease has placed on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is undoubtedly much greater.

Several states have been moving to relax restrictions even as daily new infections in the US exceed 20,000 and daily deaths are well over 1,000, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

After India relaxed some lockdown restrictions on Monday, thousands of people turned up at liquor stores without following social distancing recommendations. Police used batons to disperse the crowds. On Tuesday, Indian authorities imposed a special tax of 70% on liquor purchases.

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