Doctors and people bereaved by Covid have described the 200,000th death from the virus in the UK as a “tragic milestone” and called for the return of infection control measures, including mask wearing and better sick pay amid concern about rising cases and new variants.
Prof Philip Banfield, council chair of the British Medical Association, said: “This terrible loss of life must serve as an important reminder that Covid-19 has not gone away and remains a serious threat to public health.”
Care home residents’ representatives said reaching the landmark death toll was “heartbreaking”.
With hospital admissions from Covid tripling in the UK since the end of May, Jo Goodman, a co-founder of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, which represents more than 6,500 families, said: “Two hundred thousand deaths is a tragedy and yet another damning milestone of the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“Four hundred and fifty-four people died within 28 days of a positive test from Covid just last week, and yet the government refuses to take even basic steps to protect people from the virus. By making people pay for tests, not enforcing adequate sick pay or taking measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in hospitals, the government is effectively throwing the most vulnerable in our society to the wolves.”
Prof Rowland Kao, the chair of veterinary epidemiology and data science at Edinburgh University, predicted “much more stressful conditions” in the autumn and winter and called for greater precautions.
“Treating it like it has gone is not helpful and by doing so we are causing a substantial but relatively low level of infections to persist,” Kao said. “As we head into the autumn and winter and we expect more flu and more Covid, it’s a high risk that we will be facing much more stressful conditions. Anything we can do to keep things down now is helpful. I mean testing, isolating if positive, and being respectful of physical distance, particularly in high-risk settings. FFP2 masks in those settings would be a good idea, though that is also personal choice.”
Jim McManus, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, called for people to get their booster jabs when invited and said the 200,000 deaths milestone was “tragic”.
The government said on Wednesday it was “working hard to reach those people who were still unvaccinated against Covid, including using walk-in and mobile vaccination clinics … and providing bespoke messages from trusted voices, such as faith and community leaders, to diverse people to get the vaccine.”
World Health Organization data shows the UK has the world’s seventh highest total death toll and the worst of any European country apart from Russia. Judged on deaths per capita, the UK’s rate is better than Italy’s and Belgium’s and that of much of eastern Europe, but worse than those of France, Spain and Germany, the WHO figures show.
On Thursday next week Heather Hallet, the chair of the UK Covid-19 public inquiry, will make her opening statement, spelling out a timetable and how she intends to run the investigation.
Helen Wildbore, the director of the Relatives and Residents Association, which represents care home users, said the 200,000 death milestone was “another reminder of the government’s poor management of the pandemic”.
Scotland, the US and England are the three countries with the highest share of Covid deaths relative to care home residents, in a list of 21 countries analysed by an international network of academics.
“From neglect of the social care sector during the first wave, to people living in care being the only group still subject to restrictions whilst the rest of the country is completely back to normal, older people have been let down by the very systems designed to protect their rights,” Wildbore said. “With a public inquiry now under way, we will push for the answers they deserve and ensure their voices are heard.”
David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The question that remains is will this continue to be a serious illness for people who are obese and with co-morbidities despite them being vaccinated. At present the vaccine seems to be doing a pretty good job on them.
“The pandemic has been tragic in that there have been so many people that have died around the world, but at the same time we have been very fortunate to have a vaccine as rapidly as we do and hopefully everyone will take advantage of the vaccine [boosters].”