UK set to surpass 50,000 Covid-19 deaths, military and NHS staff on standby to roll out vaccine across the country; says Matt Hancock

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LONDON: The UK is set to surpass 50,000 Covid-19 deaths, little more than seven months after the nation was warned that 20,000 deaths would be “a good result”. With the current death toll for people who have died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test standing at 49,770, it is likely the country will pass the grim milestone today. 

On Tuesday the UK’s daily death toll was 532 – exceeding 500 in a single day for the first time since May.  Days after the entire UK went into the strictest nationwide lockdown in March, Stephen Powis, the medical director of National Health Service England, said a death toll lower than 20,000 would be “a good result”. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Little more than seven months on, the nation’s death toll – as reported by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) – stands at more than double that figure. 

When Powis made his comment during a Downing Street press conference on March 28, the UK had just surpassed 1,000 deaths in total.

The number of new confirmed cases that day stood at just 2,821, a sharp contrast to the 20,412 announced on Tuesday – although the introduction of widespread testing does mean that many more cases are now being identified than were in March. 

The most widely-shared figure for the current UK death toll is one that focuses on the deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test. But if you look at the number of deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate but not within the 28-day timeframe, the current toll stands at 61,648. 

Hospitalisations are still currently significantly lower than they were during the first wave of the virus. On November 5 – the most recent date we currently have data for – 13,070 people were in hospital with Covid-19, compared with 19,849 on April 12.

The number of confirmed patients in mechanical ventilation beds also remains much lower than the April peak, with 1,200 patients recorded on November 6. 

While this figure is around 2,000 less than the previous peak, a graph shared by DHSC shows a steading increase in the number of ventilated patients day-on-day, and 1,200 is the highest number since May 16. 

Health Secretary

People in the UK are likely to be among the first in the world to receive a coronavirus jab, the Health Secretary has said. The UK’s medicines regulator could approve the Pfizer or Oxford jabs within days of a licence application being submitted due to rolling analysis of the data, according to Matt Hancock.

He said the military and NHS staff are on standby to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine across the UK from the start of December and will work “seven days a week”, with GPs, new vaccination centres and pharmacists all playing a role.

Mr Hancock said there were many hurdles to overcome before the “vast task” of vaccination could begin, including regulatory approval of the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and assessment of its safety data.

But he said the NHS was leading the work to get a vaccine to those most in need as soon as possible, including the elderly and health and care staff, though most other people will not get a jab until 2021.

Asked whether a vaccine could be available by Christmas, Mr Hancock said that was “absolutely a possibility”, adding that vaccination clinics would be open on bank holidays and weekends.

Data on the jab from Oxford University and AstraZeneca is just weeks away, with Sir John Bell, who is part of the Oxford team, saying he expects two or three jabs to be available by the new year.