Alarm as UK death toll hits highest in Europe

Sick man of Europe: The true number of fatalities is likely to already be 40,000 – worse than the Blitz.

Should we trust government less? A lockdown scientist has quit after breaking the rules with his married lover. The chief scientific officer admits mistakes. The health secretary snaps.

Britain’s death toll climbed to the highest in Europe last night in one of the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic. Two official measures showed that UK figures had surpassed Italy’s — previously the worst-affected nation on the continent.

The first was government data showing there had been 29,427 deaths in hospitals, care homes, and the community – a rise of 693 in one day.

But a second set of figures from the Office for National Statistics put the death toll at 32,375 – once numbers from Scotland and Northern Ireland had been included.

The UK’s death toll is now second in the world to the USA, which has, so far, reported 71,228, and has a population five times the size.

Ministers are now facing accusations that they failed to act quickly enough in enforcing the lockdown; testing; providing protective equipment for NHS staff, and preventing outbreaks in care homes.

The four-day Cheltenham Festival was allowed go ahead from 16 March, drawing crowds of thousands to the racecourse. And images are still emerging online of Britons being brought home on packed planes.

Yet, only yesterday, a major opinion survey said that trust in government has reached record levels in the UK – rising faster than any other market in the world, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer.

Should we trust government less?

Things fall apart

Yes, say some. We all want to believe in the skills of a pilot when a plane flies into a storm. But if they make too many mistakes, it is much better for someone else to grab the controls.

Hang on, say others. Government is the art of the possible, not the perfect. It is childish to expect magic solutions. Britain faces unique challenges, including huge cities, huge airports, and one of the highest levels of obesity in Western Europe. In the circumstances, the UK is not doing a bad job.

You Decide

  1. Do you think politicians are good people doing their best?


  1. Make a list of the three people you would trust most in a crisis – not including your parents or guardians. Then list the top three qualities that make them trustworthy.

Some People Say...

“During an unprecedented time when government response at all levels could mean the difference between life and death, the public is placing its faith in government to lead the fight against the virus.”

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Britain was one of the last European countries to impose lockdown. It struggled to increase testing to the levels seen in Germany and Italy. The UK has one of the highest levels of obesity in Western Europe, and its cities are among the most densely populated in Europe. Britain’s airports are also among the busiest in Europe and, yet, the country was slow to close its borders.
What do we not know?
Given some of the other issues above, there is disagreement about whether it is fair to blame the prime minister alone for a colossal failure to supply enough PPE for NHS workers; the unacceptable delay in testing and contact-tracing, and the lack of an exit plan out of lockdown.

Word Watch

Office for National Statistics
The ONS is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics. It is a non-ministerial department which reports directly to the UK Parliament.
A slightly higher figure than it appears in the graphic above because it was updated this morning.
Cheltenham Festival
The four-day festival of horse racing for prize money that takes place annually in March at Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Edelman Trust Barometer
According to its own website, the Edelman Trust Barometer is the most comprehensive study of trust in the world. Every year for the past 20 years, Edelman has examined trust in business, government, media, and non-governmental organisations (like Oxfam).

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