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Boris Johnson says he's 'deeply sorry for every life lost' as UK's Covid death toll exceeds 100,000

Another 1,631 deaths were reported today bringing the total to 100,162.

Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 26th 2021, 7:20 PM

BORIS JOHNSON HAS said he is “deeply sorry” for every life lost to coronavirus as he insisted the British government did “everything we could” to minimise deaths and suffering.

The UK Prime Minister offered his “deepest condolences” to those whose relatives have died of Covid-19, and pledged to ensure their loved ones are remembered.

His comments came as the British government’s figure for coronavirus deaths passed 100,000 – though separate data published by statistics agencies places the toll at 115,000.

Johnson said: “I think on this day I should just really repeat that I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost and of course as I was Prime Minister I take full responsibility for everything that the Government has done.”

Britain reported its first cases of the disease almost a year ago, on 29 January 2020 but Johnson was initially relaxed about introducing measures to tackle the spread.

Then as cases rose, a lockdown was introduced in March but questions have remained ever since about the government’s approach, particularly its testing and tracing regime.

At the time, National Health Service (NHS) England medical director Steven Powis said: “If we can keep deaths below 20,000 we will have done very well”.

The lockdown was ordered largely on the back of an Imperial College London study that warned 500,000 could die without severe measures, and 250,000 with less stringent regulations.

Since then, the country has endured another two waves of the virus, and is currently mired in its third and deadliest bout, blamed on a new variant that hit before Christmas.

Although case numbers have fallen over the past week, Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, warned on Friday that the peak in deaths of the current wave was still “in the future”.

‘We did everything we could’

At today’s Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister was pressed on accusations his government had failed.

Johnson said: “What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything that we can, to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage…

“And a very, very difficult crisis for our country, and we will continue to do that, just as every government that is affected by this crisis around the world is continuing to do the same.”

Referring to the 100,000 deaths, Johnson said it was “hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic: the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended and for so many relatives the missed chance to even say goodbye”.

He told the Downing Street press conference that “you would exhaust the thesaurus of misery” in trying to describe the figure, adding: “It’s an appalling and tragic loss of life, there’s no question about it.”

Professor Whitty, meanwhile, braced the country for “a lot more deaths over the next few weeks before the effects of the vaccines begin to be felt”.

He said the number of people testing positive for coronavirus was “still at a very high number, but it has been coming down”.

Prof Whitty also cautioned against relaxing restrictions “too early” as he said Office for National Statistics data demonstrates a slower decrease.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK was still an “incredibly high number”, he stressed, and “substantially above the peak in April”.

Prof Whitty said it looked like hospital figures were coming down slightly in areas such as London and the South East and the East of England, but in some areas levels were “still not convincingly reducing”.

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‘Incessant’ hospital admissions

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said that more than a quarter of a million severely ill coronavirus patients have been looked after in hospital this year.

“This is not a year that anybody is going to want to remember nor is it a year that across the health service any of us will ever forget,” he said.

He also told the briefing that there will be an end to the “incessant” new Covid-19 admissions to hospitals.

“What people (health staff) probably want right now is three things – first of all to be able to look forward to some sort of respite from what has been an incredibly demanding and continuous year of pressure.

“Secondly to know that there are reinforcements on the way, that the staffing pressures in the health service will be taken seriously in the years to come.

“And thirdly to tackle the pressures in the here and now which fundamentally are about reducing the number of new patients who turn up in A&E severely ill with coronavirus day in day out.

“So it’s that combination I think. The sense there will be some respite, the sense the health service will get resilient, staffing support it needs in the years to come, but right now we actually collectively turn off the incessant new admissions that are arriving with very severely ill coronavirus patients.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the 100,000 death toll was a “national tragedy”.

He added: “We must never become numb to these numbers or treat them as just statistics. Every death is a loved one, a friend, a neighbour, a partner or a colleague. It is an empty chair at the dinner table.”

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