The number of UK deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday night crossed the grim milestone of 50,000 – the highest in Europe – as health officials prepared for mass vaccination of the Pfizer vaccine from early December if it passes regulatory check in the coming days.
There were 595 deaths in UK hospitals and care homes in the last 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 50,365. By another calculation of coronavirus mentioned as a cause in death certificates (in all settings, including those outside hospitals), the figure has already crossed 60,000.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new milestone indicated that the UK is “not out of the woods”, despite news this week about the Pfizer vaccine: “Every death is a tragedy. I do think we have got now to a different phase in the way that we treat it.”
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The UK is now the fifth country in the world to register more than 50,000 deaths, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico. The cumulative figure of positive cases in the UK is 1,256,725, with 22,950 registered in the last 24 hours.
Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has been critical of the Johnson government’s handling of the pandemic, said the latest death figures were a “grim milestone,” adding that the government owed it to the families of those who have lost their lives “to get on top” of its response to the second wave.
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Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association said: “This is a point that should never have been reached. Today’s figure is a terrible indictment of poor preparation, poor organisation by the government, insufficient infection control measures, coupled with late and often confusing messaging for the public.”
Meanwhile, the National Health Service is working on a plan to vaccinate on a large scale if the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) approves the Pfizer vaccine in the near future. Football stadiums, town halls and conference centres in England are among centres of the mass vaccination plan that includes a priority list of the vaccine recipients.
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June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: “The safety of the public will always come first. A Covid-19 vaccine will only be approved once it has met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality.”
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, added: “This is one of the most important, if not the most important, vaccination programme we’ve done for decades. If I can help with this in some evenings and weekends, doing some extra vaccinations sessions myself, then I’m going to.”
Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister would be happy to receive the vaccine: “Any vaccines which are determined for use will undergo a vigorous series of safety checks, they will be absolutely safe for the public to use. And the prime minister would therefore, of course, be very happy to take the vaccine himself.”