UK reports lowest coronavirus toll in weeks as Johnson returns
LONDON, United Kingdom – Britain on Sunday, April 26, reported its lowest daily rise in coronavirus deaths in nearly 4 weeks as officials confirmed Prime Minister Boris Johnson had returned to Downing Street after recovering from the virus.
The number of people who have died rose by 413 to 20,732, officials said on Sunday, the lowest reported daily increase in April.
The last time the health department recorded a smaller increase was on March 31, when 381 deaths were registered.
The latest figures were published just hours before Johnson returned.
"I can confirm that the prime minister has returned to Downing Street," an official told AFP.
Johnson will resume his duties on Monday after recovering at his country residence since his release from hospital on April 12.
And immediate concern will be deciding whether to relax strict social distancing rules.
Despite the slowdown – which came at a weekend when the toll has often been lower – Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Sunday that lockdown rules should remain in place.
"There are encouraging signs of progress," he said at a daily press briefing.
"But before we consider it safe to adjust any of the current system distancing measures, we must be satisfied that we have met the five tests set last week."
These included making sure the British health service (NHS) was able to cope, and a "sustained and consistent" fall in the daily death rate.
The UK was initially placed into lockdown on March 23. This was extended on April 16 and a review is due on May 7.
Eustice echoed statements made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who has been deputizing for Johnson – that the rules would "be with us for some time" and were the "new normal."
There had been calls for the rules to be relaxed from within the ruling Conservative Party.
The new opposition Labor party leader Keir Starmer meanwhile wrote to Johnson on Sunday asking for details of a potential lifting of restrictions.
He accused the government of mistakes at the beginning of the crisis, adding: "The government cannot fall short in its preparations for what happens when the time is right for lockdown measures to be lifted."
Sunday's figures also showed another 4,463 people had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to almost 153,000.
Despite Sunday's lower death toll Britain remains one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the virus.
The government has been under scrutiny, especially over shortages in protective equipment and a lack of widespread testing, particularly of frontline health and social care workers.
Meanwhile, a row continues over the role played by Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings, after it emerged he attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic.
The government denied Cummings and another advisor were members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – a body that is supposed to be independent.
Officials said the advisers attended SAGE meetings to "understand better" the scientific debates.
A former Conservative frontbencher, David Davis, tweeted: "We should publish the membership of SAGE: remove any non-scientist members." – Rappler.com