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Coronavirus: 48 more deaths in the UK as Boris Johnson resists closures of parks and playgrounds

This represents the biggest jump in deaths for the nation since the crisis began.

Shoppers queue outside a branch of Costco, in Croydon, south London.
Shoppers queue outside a branch of Costco, in Croydon, south London.
Image: Dominic Lipinski

Updated Mar 22nd 2020, 10:13 PM

THE DEATH TOLL from coronavirus in the UK now stands at 281, the British government said this evening. 

This represents 48 deaths in a 24-hour period – the biggest jump in deaths for the nation since the crisis began.

As of 9am today, 78,340 people had been tested for coronavirus in the UK, with 5,683 patients confirmed positive, the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England said.

Speaking at the daily press conference at Downing Street, Boris Johnson said the government is ready to impose tougher restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus if people do not follow the guidance on social distancing.

The Prime Minister insisted that he did not want to close down access to parks and playgrounds because of the benefits to people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

But amid reports of crowds flocking to parks, beaches and beauty spots across the country, he said the government was ready to impose the kind of “tougher” measures adopted in other European countries if people did not behave responsibly.

Meanwhile, the NHS is to begin sending out letters to the 1.5 million people considered to be most at risk of the disease urging them to remain at home for the next 12 weeks.

At his daily No 10 news conference, Johnson – who has faced criticism for not acting faster to slow the spread of the virus – said ministers had already closed down whole swathes of the economy, shutting pubs, clubs and restaurants.

He said the government had always followed the scientific advice when it came to access to open spaces – but warned people needed to observe the guidance that they should not gather in groups and remain two metres apart.

“What they have always said so far is that the health benefits for the whole of society of keeping the parks and playgrounds open if we possibly can outweigh the epidemiological value of closing them,” he said.

But of course looking at the way people behave and the way they are responding, we keep that under constant, constant review. If people can’t make use of parks and playgrounds responsibly, if they can’t do it in a way that observes the two-metre rule then of course we are going to have to look at further measures.

“The general principle should be that we should all as far as we possibly can stay home, protect our NHS and thereby save lives.”

He added: “I don’t think you need to use your imagination very much to see where we might have to go, and we will think about this very very actively in the next 24 hours.”

The government later issued updated guidance on essential travel, saying it did not include visits to “second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays”.

Earlier, in a message to the nation, the Prime Minister warned Britain was only “two or three” weeks behind Italy where the death toll has already risen above 5,000 making it the worst outbreak anywhere in the world.

He said that unless the UK could control the spread of the virus through social distancing, the NHS would be “overwhelmed” in the same way that the Italian healthcare system had been.

However the deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, cautioned against comparing the UK’s figures too closely with other countries’.

“As you go through a sharp rise in numbers, which we will see going forward, you have to be careful to be comparing too precisely,” she said.

“We will look back in due course, sadly, and see the true number of people who have died from coronavirus.”

With reporting by PA

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