UK coronavirus death toll rises by 616 to 18,738

23 April 2020, 15:01

A drive-through coronavirus testing centre in Chessington
A drive-through coronavirus testing centre in Chessington. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The UK's death toll from coronavirus in hospitals has risen by 616, down from a rise of 759 yesterday.

A total of 18,738 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Wednesday, the Department of Health said.

The figures come as MPs were facing pressure to reveal their strategy for bringing the UK out of lockdown.

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon said a return to normal life with no coronavirus lockdown restrictions is “not on the cards in the near future,” with the chance some measures could be kept in place until next year.

Discussing a paper published on Thursday on how Scotland will remove lockdown regulations, the First Minister said the "science will never be exact" and the Scottish Government will have to make judgments on any measures added or lifted.She said discussions are at a "very early stage" regarding schools, and said "redesigning classrooms" was an option to be considered, adding: "There will potentially be an area where schools aren't exactly closed but also not open as normal".

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The First Minister also said it was likely that people could be asked to wear face coverings in public in "limited circumstances," but that she doesn't want "to overstate the impact" of them and is looking to issue guidance in coming days.

The paper says the lifting of restrictions north of the border will be a phased process, with pubs among the last things to reopen, but further lockdowns are not ruled out.

Social distancing and frequent hand washing will need to stay in place even as people are given more freedom, with measures "at home, on the streets and in the workplace".

There will also be enhanced "public health surveillance" - referring to the need for more widespread community testing and isolation of people with the virus and their contacts - while the country seeks "to very carefully open up parts of our economy and society".

The document says options will include reopening parts of the economy sector by sector, and considering different restrictions depending on how the virus is spreading geographically.

But the document does not rule out the need for further full lockdowns if necessary.

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A Number 10 spokesman on Thursday sought to play down any suggestion that the Scottish Government is taking a different approach to the rest of the UK.

"As far as I am aware, the Scottish Government have stressed that they want to continue to operate within a four nations, UK framework and align any decisions that are taken as far as possible," the spokesman said.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced plans on Wednesday to introduce "large scale" contact tracing - seen as a key route out of the current measures.

Testing capacity is also being expanded at scale so that wider testing in the community can help experts track the virus as the lockdown is slowly lifted.

Scientists say that by isolating people with the virus and then tracing their contacts and isolating them, the hope is that regional outbreaks of the virus can be kept under control.

Northern Ireland plans to introduce a pilot of contact tracing next week.