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UK coronavirus deaths pass Italy, with 32,000 suspected fatalities

People wearing face mask walks past a billboard in Dalston, Hackney, east London, as the United Kingdom continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, on Saturday May 2, 2020.

ISABEL INFANTES, EMPICS ENTERTAINMENT, PA PHOTOS, ABACA PRESS/TNS

By TIM ROSS | Bloomberg News | Published: May 5, 2020

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LONDON (Tribune News Service) — The United Kingdom’s coronavirus death toll soared passed that of Italy, making it the worst-hit country in Europe, as a top British official expressed regret over the lack of testing in the early stages of the outbreak.

While international comparisons are difficult, data from U.K. authorities showed COVID-19 is now suspected of playing a role in the deaths of 32,290 people. That is higher than the number of confirmed fatalities in Italy and Spain, the other European countries hit hardest by the virus.

The grim milestone will add to the pressure on Boris Johnson’s government, which has faced scrutiny over what some politicians and scientists have warned was a slow response to the pandemic. Britain went into lockdown at a later stage than other countries, and most controversially of all abandoned efforts to test, track and trace cases of coronavirus.

Speaking Tuesday, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, acknowledged that this had made the fight against the virus harder.

“Probably in the early phases, and I’ve said this before, if we’d managed to ramp up testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial,” he told a Parliamentary committee. “It’s clear you need lots of testing for this.”

Vallance insisted it was “completely wrong” to say testing was “the answer” to avoiding deaths, arguing that many measures were needed at once. But in recent weeks ministers have dramatically ramped up the U.K.’s testing capacity from around 10,000 per day at the start of April to more than 100,000 a day by the end of the month.

Officials now face questions over why they did not boost testing capacity earlier in the year before COVID-19 started to spread freely in the U.K., given that the virus was clearly a threat.

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