'Sombre day' says Matt Hancock as UK's coronavirus death toll passes 10,000

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent David Wood

Easter Sunday marks a "sombre day" in the UK's battle with coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said after the Covid-19-related death toll was revealed to be over 10,000.

Mr Hancock was leading the government's daily coronavirus update while his boss Prime Minister Boris Johnson recovers from Covid-19 at Chequers, his countryside retreat, after returning from hospital following three nights in intensive care.

He gave an update on Mr Johnson's health, saying he is "continuing his recovery", shortly after Mr Johnson posted a video to Twitter, thanking the NHS for "saving my life".

But he did not reveal when the PM would return to work, saying that would be a decision for his doctors.

Mr Hancock said the government was "working very hard" to ensure PPE was available to all health care workers, after it was revealed on Saturday that 19 NHS staff members had died after contracting coronavirus.

He claimed there are now "record amounts" in the system but said "until everyone gets the PPE they need, then we won’t rest".

Mr Hancock said it was an “enormous effort” to provide all staff with necessary protective equipment.

He said experts were currently trying to source more protective gowns - of which 121,000 had recently been delivered around the country.

Mr Hancock said that he wanted to be transparent about operational challenges and paid tribute to health and medical staff.

“On streets, front doors and balconies up and down the country we’ve seen the esteem with which our whole nation holds our carers, those who make the NHS and social care what it is,” he said.

“We owe it to them to get them what they need.”

Despite issues with PPE, Mr Hancock said the NHS was managing the crisis better than other countries, saying it had "always been able to provide the very best of care to everybody who needs it".

He reassured the public on the health service's ability to deal with the virus, saying there is now "more spare capacity now for critical care than there was when coronavirus first hit our shores".

Health care systems around the world have been overwhelmed by the virus, he said, “but not here”.

"The latest figures show that in Great Britain we have 2,295 spare critical care beds, up 150 from yesterday," he added

And he said the UK's capacity was to increase further with the building of more temporary coronavirus field hospitals around the country.

Six more temporary Nightingale hospitals are being built across England after the first in London opened, he said.

He said the " critical expansion" is partly because "we have a record number of ventilators, 9,775," in the system, and "partly because we have record numbers of returners coming back and rejoining the NHS".

"Over 5,000 former staff are now back on the NHS frontline and over 36,000 have come forward to enlist," he said.

He added: "Throughout this crisis with all the challenges that we've been dealing with, all the operational difficulties and all the logistics, we have always been able to provide the very best of care to everybody who needs it through the NHS.

"At the start of this crisis, people said that the NHS would be overwhelmed, and we've seen that and we've seen the risk of that elsewhere but not here.

"And that is because of the action that a huge number of people are taking and the incredible work of so many."

Mr Hancock also announced a new NHS app for coronavirus contact tracing.

He said if someone is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, they can "tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days, even before you have symptoms so that they know and can act accordingly".

He said the app is currently being tested and they are working with the world’s leading tech companies and experts in clinical safety and digital ethics “so that we can get this right”.

Prime Minister Johnson, in his video message on Twitter, said the UK "will win" the battle against coronavirus, because "our NHS is the beating heart of this country - it is unconquerable, it is powered by love".

But he said his stay at St Thomas' Hospital's intensive care ward "could have gone either way" and he was being watched "every second of the night" by NHS staff.

Mr Hancock said there was no advice on how long Prime Minister Johnson should rest before returning to work.

He added: “That will be a clinical decision for his doctors to take with him.

“The Government is operating perfectly efficiently within the strategy that he set out.”

At the press conference Mr Hancock also thanked the NHS as he urged the public to stick with the government's coronavirus lockdown measures, pointing to the UK's high death toll.

He said: “Today marks a sombre day in the impact of this disease as we join the list of countries who have seen more than 10,000 deaths related to coronavirus.

“The fact that over 10,000 people have now lost their lives to this invisible killer demonstrates just how serious this coronavirus is and why the national effort that everyone is engaged in is so important.”

A total of 10,612 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm Saturday, the Department of Health said earlier.

Meanwhile, Labour demanded "urgent talks" with the government to discuss how Parliament can be reopened ahead of schedule to allow the coronavirus response to be scrutinised, after it was closed for an early Easter recess amid the growing coronavirus crisis.

But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to be resisting such calls.

He is insisting MPs will return on April 21, the date agreed before the Easter recess.

A spokesman for Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Parliament will return on April 21 to fulfil its essential constitutional functions of conducting scrutiny, authorising spending and making laws.

“In these unprecedented times, technological solutions have already been implemented for select committees and options are being prepared for the Speaker, the government and other parties to consider next week."