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Westminster mortuary is expanded to cope with a surge of coronavirus victims

Westminster mortuary is expanded to cope with a surge of coronavirus victims

Britain’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 104 after fatalities jumped 33 in a day as a large mortuary extension was built in Westminster to prepare for an influx of bodies.  The number of confirmed UK cases today rose to 2,626, up from 1,950 yesterday, amid a dramatic worsening of the pandemic. Westminster Public Mortuary by

Britain’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 104 after fatalities jumped 33 in a day as a large mortuary extension was built in Westminster to prepare for an influx of bodies. 

The number of confirmed UK cases today rose to 2,626, up from 1,950 yesterday, amid a dramatic worsening of the pandemic. Westminster Public Mortuary by the Houses of Parliament can currently store 102 corpses and is likely to see its capacity almost doubled. 

It came as Boris Johnson finally vowed a dramatic escalation of the UK’s testing capacity from 5,000 to 25,000 tests a day amid warnings that the country cannot fight the epidemic ‘blindfolded’. However, the full ‘surge capacity’ at Public Health England and in health service laboratories might not be ready for another four weeks.

At this point the government is also still only planning to test patients in hospitals – although the government has asked medical companies to help ‘rapidly’ develop a swab test that can be used in the community. The PM says UK testing for coronavirus is already greater than many other ‘comparable countries’ and said NHS staff would be prioritised.

Schools in Wales and Scotland will close by the end of this week while a decision on whether to do the same in England will be taken ‘imminently’. Mr Johnson is under huge pressure to follow the Home Nations’ lead amid major questions over whether annual exams will be able to go ahead.

Meanwhile, businesses today told Chancellor Rishi Sunak his £350bn coronavirus bailout was ‘not enough’ amid fears one million people could lose their jobs. The Pound fell to $1.1875 to reach its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985, in what appears to be a damning verdict on the government’s response. 

It came as Tesco became the latest supermarket to impose strict rationing measures on items like loo roll, soap and UHT milk to curb coronavirus panic-buying. 

The capacity of Westminster Public Mortuary by the Houses of Parliament can currently store 102 corpses and is likely to see its capacity almost doubled after the construction of this new extension (pictured)

The capacity of Westminster Public Mortuary by the Houses of Parliament can currently store 102 corpses and is likely to see its capacity almost doubled after the construction of this new extension (pictured) 

Builders were today seen moving materials to construct the extension, which lies near the Houses of Parliament on Horseferry Road

Builders were today seen moving materials to construct the extension, which lies near the Houses of Parliament on Horseferry Road 

The number of confirmed UK cases today rose to 2,626, up from 1,950 yesterday, amid a dramatic worsening of the pandemic. The death toll rose to 102

The number of confirmed UK cases today rose to 2,626, up from 1,950 yesterday, amid a dramatic worsening of the pandemic. The death toll rose to 102  

How confirmed UK of coronavirus have spiked since the crisis began - although experts believe the true prevalance of the disease is much higher

How confirmed UK of coronavirus have spiked since the crisis began – although experts believe the true prevalance of the disease is much higher

The Prime Minister’s announcement on testing came amid mounting alarm about the level of screening, with fury that NHS workers are being forced to self-isolate because they are unsure whether they have the disease or not. 

Routine testing of suspected coronavirus sufferers was abandoned last week, when the government said it was no longer possible to ‘contain’ coronavirus. Instead those with symptoms are being urged to stay at home for a fortnight. 

Meanwhile, there are claims that celebrities have been paying for kits to check themselves at home.

The developments came as the number of people positively diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK hit 2,626, up from 1,950 yesterday. A total of 56,221 people now have been tested.

Representatives from US firm ThermoFisher were seen entering Downing Street last night carrying a box with a testing kit. It is understood they were giving a demonstration of how the four-hour test, which has been approved in the US, works.

Roche, Boots, and Amazon were also at the meeting with Mr Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock in No10, as well as Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance. 

At PMQs in the Commons, Mr Johnson insisted that the UK was already carrying out more tests that other ‘comparable’ countries.   

‘This country is actually far ahead of many other comparable countries. We are increasing our tests from 5,000 to 10,000 a day,’ he said.

He added later: ‘We are moving up to 25,000 a day.’ 

However, Jeremy Corbyn demanded an increase on an ‘industrial scale’ – pointing to the advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been highly critical of the move to tell people with symptoms to isolate at home, without being diagnosed. 

On another rollercoaster day as Britain is gripped by the coronavirus crisis:

  • The government is poised to announce a shutdown of schools, despite Mr Johnson insisting last week that there was no scientific reason for them to be closed. Scotland and Wales have already declared closures today, falling in line with similar action across much of Europe;
  • Businesses have demanded Chancellor Rishi Sunak goes further than the £350billion bailout he announced last night, with calls for VAT to be axed, national insurance to be cancelled, and workers’ wage bills to be footed by the state;
  • The government has been accused of failing to act to help renters and the self-employed in the emergency package;
  • Economists have warned that the UK economy could shrink by a fifth and a million people could lose their jobs as the ‘social distancing’ measures take effect; 
  • The Pound has fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985, in what appears to be a damning verdict on the government’s response; 

The PM said the number of tests a day will be increased from the current level of around 5,000 to 25,000, and NHS staff will be prioritised

Two men wearing suits were pictured carrying a box from ThermoFisher – which makes coronavirus tests that give results in four hours – outside Downing Street last night

Two men wearing suits were pictured carrying a box from ThermoFisher – which makes coronavirus tests that give results in four hours – outside Downing Street last night

Wales and Scotland to shut schools by the end of this week as PM says decision on England will be taken ‘imminently’ 

Schools in Wales and Scotland will close by the end of this week while a decision on whether to do the same in England will be taken ‘imminently’ amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak. 

The Welsh government announced today that all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest. 

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said her country will be doing the same due to the impact of coronavirus on teacher numbers amid claims up to 20 per cent are in self-isolation.

Nicola Sturgeon today announced that schools in Scotland will close on Friday because of the coronavirus outbreak. Wales has taken the same decision

Nicola Sturgeon today announced that schools in Scotland will close on Friday because of the coronavirus outbreak. Wales has taken the same decision

And in a sign that the school closures may not be short term, Ms Sturgeon said she could not ‘promise that they will reopen before the summer holidays’. 

No announcement has been made on schools in England but Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested at lunchtime during PMQs – before the Welsh and Scottish decisions were announced – that some sort of action will be taken in the very near future. 

The PM said the government would act to ‘square the circle’ of making sure the spread of the virus is slowed while also ensuring there is not an adverse impact on NHS capacity. 

Mr Johnson is under huge pressure to now follow the lead of Wales and Scotland and send pupils home in England amid major questions over whether annual exams will be able to go ahead.  

Senior figures in the government fear a blanket closure of schools could adversely affect the health service because key workers could be forced off work to look after children. 

Children & parents/carers arrive at school in West London. Many schools remain open despite the coronavirus crisis

Children & parents/carers arrive at school in West London. Many schools remain open despite the coronavirus crisis

The government has come under heavy fire over the speed with which the testing regime has been bolstered. 

The number of checks per day is not expected to hit 10,000 until next week. 

But ministers believe that a radical expansion could soon see the total number exceed that in China, which has carried out more than 220,000 altogether.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Public safety is my top priority, and radically ramping up testing for coronavirus is a key part of our plan to protect lives. We are already among the best in the world for coronavirus testing and today we are launching a national effort to increase our testing capability even further.

‘Our aim is to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS – so it is right that we prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness. We will always do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice, and will do whatever it takes to protect life.’

An announcement on closing schools in England is expected ‘imminently’ – probably at a 5pm press conference being held by Mr Johnson. 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today that all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest.

The Welsh authorities have said they are doing the same, amid claims up to 20 per cent of teachers are in self-isolation.

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance admitted yesterday that the tests must be ‘ramped up’. 

‘That clearly is not going to be enough going forward,’ he told MPs.

‘We really do need to get our testing in the right place to ensure we can monitor this effectively…

‘There is a very big effort going on to try to ramp that up.’

It is not clear the extent to which the number of tests is an issue, or whether the issue is the capacity of Public Health England (PHE) to carry them out.  

The Government has been at pains to say that it is testing more people than the majority of other states with coronavirus. But it is still far below the number being tested by nations like South Korea

Last night men carrying a box from ThermoFisher – which makes coronavirus tests that give results in four hours – were pictured in Downing Street.   

Celebrities and big businesses have begun paying out for a £375-a-time home-testing kit being sold by a private clinic, according to the Telegraph.

PrivateHarleyStreetClinic.com says it can get a test to your home within 48 hours, boasting:  At present, the NHS is only offering testing for coronavirus to hospitalised patients. 

‘We have been inundated with requests to provide a private test. 

Tesco becomes latest supermarket to impose strict rationing measures

Tesco has become the latest supermarket to impose strict rationing measures on items like loo roll, soap and UHT milk to curb coronavirus panic-buying. 

Customers stocking up across the country is intensifying today as supermarkets under mounting pressure are taking drastic rationing action in a bid to deal with the unprecedented demand for goods. 

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket, will impose restrictions on all customers to buying a maximum of three products per line from Thursday, as it copes with the high demand from the coronavirus pandemic, the company has announced.

Items that are now selling out, and subsequently being rations, at supermarkets up and down the country, include long-life milk, cleaning fluids, toilet rolls and pasta

Items that are now selling out, and subsequently being rations, at supermarkets up and down the country, include long-life milk, cleaning fluids, toilet rolls and pasta

Britain’s grocery industry has struggled for over a week to keep shelves stocked in the face of stockpiling, which worsened on Tuesday despite weekend appeals for calm from supermarket bosses and politicians. 

But experts have asked why supermarkets have introduced different limits on certain goods, creating confusion for customers and competition among rivals. 

Sainsbury’s today announced it is closing its in-store bakeries, meat, fish and pizza counters and cafes from tomorrow to free up lorry and warehouse capacity, and to free up more staff to stack shelves.  

The supermarket will restrict people to only buying three of any single grocery item, with a two-item limit on the most popular goods such as toilet paper and long-life milk. From March 23, disabled customers and those over 70 will take priority for online delivery slots. 

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said, ‘We are temporarily closing our cafes, some supermarket bakery services and counters so that we can focus on serving grocery and other essential items in our busy stores.’ 

People rushed to enter Waitrose as the shop opened

People rushed to enter Waitrose as the shop opened

Aldi became the first UK grocer to introduce rationing, limiting customers to buying four items of any one product during each visit, while Morrisons plans to create 3,500 new jobs and expand its home delivery operation.

Tesco and Asda followed suit by limiting shoppers to three items, while Iceland will only open to elderly, vulnerable and disabled shoppers on Wednesday mornings. Despite the stringent new measures, shelves at a Tesco supermarket in Ely, Cambridgeshire, were stripped bare just two hours after the store opened this morning. 

And customers at an Asda Walmart in Waterlooville, Hampshire, were queuing outside the door at 6am this morning and within just one hour, shoppers claim shelves were empty as worried households continue to stockpile against government advice.  

‘We can now confirm we are able to offer paid tests, via a postal courier service on a maximum 3 day turnaround service to private individuals and organisations.

‘Most importantly, this is the only test in the world that can identify the lethal Covid-19 virus and differentiate between 9 other non lethal viruses with the same symptoms.’ 

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Our NHS staff are battling to protect us, government must protect them: From goggles, gowns, gloves, masks and thermometers we need adequate PPE for all staff across secondary & primary care. 

‘Testing must be scaled up urgently for staff.’ 

Mr Ashworth added: ‘This is a national effort and all of us must pull together. 

‘We have to urgently ramp up testing especially for our NHS staff. 

‘If this Harley Street clinic has testing capacity then government needs to get hold of it for NHS staff.’

At PMQs, Mr Corbyn said: ‘The World Health Organisation said test, test, test and we should be testing, I believe, on an industrial scale.’

He said 10,000 tests per day is ‘nowhere near even the number of people working in the NHS and the care sector’ and demanded a ‘greater sense of urgency’.

Mr Johnson replied: ‘Well in point of fact, we are prioritising testing of NHS staff for the obvious reason that we want them to be able to look after everybody else with confidence that they’re not transmitting the disease and this country is actually far ahead of many other comparable countries in testing huge numbers of people.’

Mr Johnson rejected the criticism, and stressed the importance of a separate test for whether people have previously been infected with coronavirus.

‘We are getting much closer to having a generally available test which will determine whether or not you have had the disease and that will truly be of huge benefit to this country in tackling the outbreak,’ he said.

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, an A&E doctor, demanded to know why ‘mass testing’ was taking so long.

‘We are in unprecedented times. I would like to know where was the forward-planning for PPE for our NHS and care staff? Where is the testing for medics? Why are we waiting so long for mass testing? And why are social distancing measures merely just suggestions?’ she said.

Mr Johnson thanked the Tooting MP for her work in the health service, adding: ‘We have stockpiles of PPE equipment and we’re proceeding in accordance with the best scientific advice.

‘It is the timeliness of those measures that is absolutely vital in combating the spread of the epidemic. That is how you save lives.’

Around 86 per cent of coronavirus patients go undetected because their symptoms are so mild, a study warned last night. 

Scientists at Columbia University in New York analysed the spread of the infection in China, before the outbreak spiralled out of control. 

The researchers found the thousands of undocumented infections drove the spread of the crisis, which saw most of China locked down. 

Italian authorities have managed to contain the killer coronavirus outbreak in a small town near Venice through a rigorous testing strategy.

Health bosses in Vò – 45miles (72km) east of the tourist hotspot – have had no new cases for 48 hours.

PrivateHarleyStreetClinic.com says it can get a test to your home within 48 hours, in exchange for £375

PrivateHarleyStreetClinic.com says it can get a test to your home within 48 hours, in exchange for £375

Officials conducted an experiment in the town, which is home to 3,300 people, to test and re-test all inhabitants.

The Financial Times reports the strategy meant everyone would be tested – even if they showed no symptoms.

Andrea Crisanti, an infectious disease specialist taking part in the experiment, told the newspaper the method allowed officials to get the clearest picture about the size of the outbreak.

The experiment began at the end of February, and the initial roll-out of tests showed around three per cent of patients were infected.

This dropped ten-fold when the second testing round was carried out 10 days later, after quarantining all of the infected and their contacts.

Professor Crisanti, who is on a sabbatical at the University of Padua, said: ‘In the UK, there are a whole lot of infections that are completely ignored.

‘We were able to contain the outbreak [in Vò] because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them. This is what makes the difference.

It comes after Sir Patrick suggested around 70,000 Britons – or roughly one in every 1,000 out of the 68million population – could unknowingly be infected with the virus.

He claimed for every death in Britain – 71 have been announced so far – there is likely to be 1,000 positive cases. 

Addressing MPs yesterday he said the UK needed ‘a big increase in testing’ because 4,000 a day was ‘clearly not going to be enough’. 

‘We simply don’t have the mass testing available for the population now,’ he told the Health Select Committee.

‘There is a big effort going on to get that in place as quickly as possible.’  

In stinging criticism, a frontline NHS doctor who worked for the government in West Africa during the Ebola crisis has warned lessons learned there are being ‘completely ignored’.

The anonymous doctor is currently in self-isolation for seven to 14 days because they have displayed symptoms of the virus but cannot be tested – as current Government policy states only the most serious cases are being followed up.

They told the PA news agency they did not understand the lack of testing and described personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to healthcare workers as ‘inappropriate’.

They added that the stream of information provided by the Government is good, but can be contradictory and ‘confusing to the public’.

‘As a doctor I’m unwell quite often – hundreds and hundreds of us are being taken out of action until our symptoms pass,’ they said.

‘I’m unsure why the Government is not testing us. It goes against their own information and logic, which is what they were doing in West Africa which was test, test, test.

‘After the crisis in West Africa there was comprehensive after-action reports on what to do… they’re now deciding to go against all that advice and they’re acting incredibly slowly compared to other nations.

‘It seems like all the lessons learnt from that are being completely ignored higher up.’

Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said that healthcare staff 'battling to protect us' from the panic were being exposed by a shortage of testing kits and a lack of protective equipment'

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said that healthcare staff ‘battling to protect us’ from the panic were being exposed by a shortage of testing kits and a lack of protective equipment’

WHAT ARE OTHER COUNTRIES DOING? 

South Korea

South Korea has the capacity to test around 20,000 people each day – more than any other country in the world. 

Officials gave permission to four companies to make kits, with the country desperate to stop the killer virus spreading. It also uses drive-through testing centres.

Figures show the country has now tested up to 300,000 residents, at a rate of 5,000 per 1million inhabitants, according to reports.

In contrast, the rate in Britain is around seven times lower – at just 700 per 1million, MailOnline can reveal. 

South Korea’s outbreak – which has seen almost 8,500 cases and fewer than 100 deaths – has curtailed in the past week.

Fewer than 100 patients are being diagnosed each day, which leading scientists say is because of the country’s rigorous testing programme.

Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist based at Korea University, told Science magazine: ‘Lab testing is essential to control an emerging infectious disease.’

China

The coronavirus crisis began in China at the end of December, and saw hundreds of millions of people locked down in a desperate attempt to contain the crisis.

But World Health Organization experts said it was Beijing’s decision to test all suspected cases and then isolate their contacts was more important than the country-wide quarantines.

The UN agency’s assistant director general Bruce Aylward told New Scientist testing ‘stopped transmission in China, not the big travel restrictions and lockdowns’.

More than 80,000 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in China and at least 3,000 patients died of the infection. 

Italy

Italy is at the centre of Europe’s ever-growing coronavirus outbreak, with more than 31,000 confirmed cases and at least 2,500 deaths. 

At the beginning of the spiralling crisis at the end of February, health officials tried to test every suspected case.  

Virologists praised the approach, saying the strategy of ‘over-testing’ was ‘right and sensible’. Around 130,000 people have already been tested in Italy.

Authorities have already managed to completely halt the outbreak in one small town near Venice because of the rigorous approach. 

The Financial Times reports that Vò – 45miles (72km) east of the tourist hotspot, has had no new cases for 48 hours. 

And the outbreak in Lombardy, the northern Italian region that has suffered the most from the deadly infection, is slowing down, officials say.

The US

At the other end of the scale, the US has repeatedly been criticised for not testing enough people – with around 50,000 tests carried out so far. 

Some states, such as Alabama and Delaware, have swabbed fewer than 100 people, according to an independent tracker.

President Donald Trump has declared a national state of emergency and announced additional measures to expand testing.

Now, all US states can make, validate and use their own tests rather than wait for the approval of the FDA – the US regulatory body.

Health and state officials have widely blamed the testing shortage for the steep rise in US cases.

They say it both delayed public knowledge of just how many cases there were and allowed the disease to continue to spread from unwitting carriers.

 

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