Coronavirus: UK could be 'worst affected country in Europe'

  • Video report by ITV West Country's Political Correspondent David Wood

The UK’s coronavirus death toll could be the worst in Europe, an expert has warned.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and member of the SAGE committee advising the government, said it is likely the UK will at least be one of the worst countries affected by Covid-19.

“Numbers in the UK have continued to go up,” Sir Jeremy told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“And yes, the UK is likely to be certainly one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe.”

He said continuing testing in the community would “buy you time” to deal with the crisis, giving an additional six to eight weeks to ensure health systems were up to capacity.

“Undoubtedly there are lessons to learn from that,” Sir Jeremy said.

As of Saturday, the death toll in Italy stands at 19,468 - the UK's is currently at 9,875 - but has increased by around 1,800 over the past two days.

Sir Jeremy's comments come as Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the government needs to be doing "even more" in the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Alok Sharma said the Government needs to do even more. Credit: PA

Mr Sharma told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that it is the government's job to "make sure we get that health care equipment" to NHS staff.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was sorry on Saturday if anyone felt there had been failings over the supply of PPE.

On Sunday, Mr Sharma said: “Right now, your viewers will be asking does the government have a plan to get this PPE out to the front line and the answer is, yes we do have a plan.

“We are putting that in place, with millions of pieces of PPE kit going out to the front line. Of course, we need to be doing even more.”

Asked whether he agreed with analysis that the UK could have the worst coronavirus death rate in Europe, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said countries were on “different trajectories”.

Speaking to Andrew Marr, he said: “Different countries are at different stages of this cycle.

“We are at different trajectories.

“What we have done with the advice that we have now set out to people, to stay at home, is precisely because we want to make sure that we have a flattening of the curve, that infection rates aren’t going up, and ultimately people’s lives are being saved.

“We are starting to see these measures work but they will stay in place until we have advice from Sage (the Government’s scientific advisers) in terms of the evidence that is out there.”

Mr Sharma said the curve of infections was flattening but that ministers still “need to wait” before releasing social distancing measures.

Alok Sharma did not say if the Government was right to allow the Cheltenham horse racing festival to go ahead. Credit: PA

Mr Sharma refused to say whether it was right for the government to allow the Cheltenham horse racing festival to go ahead, when the daily coronavirus-related death rate in Italy had reached 200 people.

Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, he said: “We have followed the scientific and medical advice and we continue to do that.

“The Scientific Advisory Group (Sage) which advises the government is meeting next week and they will look at the evidence that is in place and, of course, we need to wait until we are past the peak and, as the chief medical officer has said, we don’t know when that will be.”

Asked whether he thought the expert advice had been wrong not to call for a lockdown earlier, Mr Sharma said: “As the situation has evolved, obviously we have looked to see what the advice is and we have acted on it.

“I am not a scientific and medical expert and that’s why we have advisers to give us that advice, that is why we have Sage, and that is why we follow what it is they are telling us to do.”

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know