Coronavirus: Britain surpasses Italy, becomes hardest hit country in Europe with over 32,000 deaths

The UK has become the country worst-hit by coronavirus in Europe, after new official figures revealed that more than 32,000 people have died from the virus.

The new figures have reignited concerns that Boris Johnson’s government did not act fast enough to curb the spread of the virus.

The Office for National Statistics said 29,648 deaths were registered in England and Wales with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificates by 2 May .

With the addition of deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland, this takes the UK’s death toll to 32,313.

Italy was one of the first countries in Europe to lock down on 9 March, shutting all non-essential businesses and ordering people to work from home.

Spain and France followed Italy on March 14 and March 17, respectively, and while the UK government faced calls to lockdown, ministers insisted they were following scientific advice.

On one day last week, the UK fatality figure rose by 4,419 after non-hospital deaths that had tested positive for the virus were included. That figure contained 3,811 deaths in care homes and the community going back to early March.

Ministers and experts have warned against international comparisons, saying the figure for excess mortality – the number of deaths from all causes that exceed the average for the time of year – is a more meaningful gauge.

In the UK, the Department of Health's fatality figures only include people who have tested positive for COVID-19. On 23 March a report by leading epidemiologist Neil Ferguson and colleagues suggested 250,000 people could die in the UK if no stringent measures were enforced, pushing the government to enforce stricter social distancing measures.

Last week, Mr Johnson said the country was past the peak and praised the nation’s “apparent successes”.

Prof David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said that over 3000 of the excess deaths were not labelled as Covid, meaning that a third were related to something else.

“There is a continuing anxiety that many of these are due to the lockdown itself. The one thing we do know is that the health service has been hugely disrupted, not just in terms of routine care, cancelled chemotherapies and radio therapies and elective surgeries, but also of people with symptoms not going to hospital,” he said.

He added: “We are not doing very well and it’s been another very bad week. I really don’t like this league table of who’s top and who’s not, but there’s no denying that these are really serious numbers.”

The latest figures also show that total care home deaths were 595 higher than the week before at 7,911, while hospital deaths were 1,191 lower at 8,243.

For the first time last week, the government began including data on deaths outside hospitals in cases where people had tested positive for coronavirus, in the daily death toll figures for the virus.

In the last 24 hours, the UK government has recorded another 693 deaths.

Meanwhile, Cyber-security agencies in the UK and US have issued a joint warning to healthcare and medical research staff, urging them to improve their password security, after cyber-criminals have been targeting healthcare bodies, particularly those involved in coronavirus response.