The U.K. has the highest official death toll as a result of the coronavirus in Europe, new figures show, with more than 32,000 fatalities recorded since the start of the outbreak.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday revealed that 29,648 people have died due to the coronavirus in England and Wales through to April 24.
The addition of deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland takes the U.K.'s death toll to 32,313, according to Reuters.
It means the U.K. has now surpassed Italy as the worst-hit country in Europe and is second only to the U.S. for Covid-19-related deaths worldwide, according to the official statistics for each country.
To date, Italy has recorded 29,079 deaths as a result of the coronavirus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Italy's total does not include suspected cases and the country's statistics agency ISTAT reportedly claimed on Monday that thousands of fatalities in the country have not been officially attributed to Covid-19.
Experts have warned against international comparisons, citing differences in demographics and because each country has its own way of measuring the number of deaths. The U.K. only recently started adding deaths in the community, such as nursing homes, to its official statistics; previously, it had included only those who died in hospital.
The U.K. government has faced intense criticism from opposition parties in recent weeks, with some lawmakers suggesting Prime Minister Boris Johnson was too slow to respond to the pandemic when it first emerged.
Johnson was initially reluctant to impose national lockdown measures at a time when hospitals in Italy were already being overrun. Downing Street has also come under fire for failing to provide enough protective equipment to hospitals and being late to roll out mass testing.
Britain has been on lockdown for six weeks now, with nonessential shops shuttered across the country and people facing fines if they break the rules. The government has been urged to lay out its road map to gradually reopen the economy as other nations in Europe lift strict restrictions on public life.
Johnson has said the U.K.'s new strategy will be unveiled later this week. He has claimed the U.K. "past the peak" of the pandemic late last month, and was now on a "downward slope."
Before it can lift lockdown restrictions, the U.K. government has said five things are necessary: The National Health Service must be able to cope; there's a consistent fall in daily deaths; a slowdown in the rate of infection to "manageable levels"; sufficient testing and personal protective equipment is in hand; and confidence that any adjustments would not risk a second peak.
The U.K. government recently said it had reached a milestone in testing for the disease, with the number of coronavirus tests carried out on Thursday rising to 122,347. This surpassed the government's self-imposed target of 100,000 daily tests by the end of April.
The country's "R rate" — a key metric in measuring the spread of the virus — has also fallen below 1, meaning each person infected with Covid-19 is likely to infect fewer than one person on average.