Britain's coronavirus death toll rises to 104 - WORLD IN FOCUS

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Thursday, 19 March 2020

Britain's coronavirus death toll rises to 104

UK daily fatality rate doubles to jump by 33 as enormous makeshift tent morgue is hastily set up in Westminster and infections soar to 2,626

Britain's coronavirus death toll has today risen to 104 after the number of new daily fatalities doubled in the space of just 24 hours.
Officials today announced 33 more deaths from the life-threatening infection in the UK – up from 16 yesterday and 20 on Monday, amid fears the outbreak in Britain is spiralling out of control. 
In preparation for an inevitable influx of deaths, a mortuary in Westminster today revealed it was having to double its capacity from 102 corpses to more than 200, in case the crisis continues to escalate as predicted.
It comes as the number of confirmed cases in the UK today rose by almost 700, with 2,626 patients known to have been infected across the home nations – but the true toll is being masked by officials. 
Health chiefs only currently swab patients in hospital, a highly controversial decision that prompted the wrath of the World Health Organisation who urged countries to 'test, test, test'. 
The Government has asked medical companies to help 'rapidly' develop a test to be used in the community – not just hospitals, as it desperately seeks to get a grip of the unfolding crisis.
Boris Johnson finally vowed a dramatic escalation of the UK's testing capacity to carry out 25,000 tests a day, after stark warnings that Britain cannot fight the pandemic 'blindfolded'. 
However, the full 'surge capacity' at Public Health England and in health service laboratories may not be ready for another four weeks, by which time thousands more patients will have been struck down.   
In other developments to the worsening crisis today, both Wales and Scotland announced they will close schools by the end of this week. 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 and growing anger among parents.
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 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 before adding 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 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.

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