By Guy Faulconbridge and Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll is probably higher than 27,241, making it one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said on Wednesday as he questioned the government’s response to the outbreak.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is facing growing criticism for its response to the outbreak as the death toll continues to rise.
While the government’s chief scientific adviser said last month that keeping the death toll below 20,000 would be a “good outcome”, the hospital toll passed that milestone last week.
Broader data published on Tuesday showed fatalities topped 24,000 nine days ago, but Starmer said his calculations showed 27,241 had died.
“We are possibly on track to have one of the worst death rates in Europe,” Starmer told parliament. “Far from success, these latest figures are truly dreadful.”
Starmer appears to have added the latest hospital death toll of 21,698 to the most recent English care home death toll of 4,343 and the non-hospital COVID-19 death tolls in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If his calculations are accurate, the United Kingdom would have the second or third worst official death toll in the world after the United States and possibly Italy.
The United States has a death toll of 58,605, Italy 27,359, Spain 23,822 and France 23,660, according to a Reuters tally.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, standing in for the prime minister during questions in parliament, said it was “far too early” to make international comparisons.
“If they are to be done, they should be done on a per capita basis,” he said.
Other countries measure death numbers in different ways, he added.
Starmer, after speaking to Johnson, said in a letter to the prime minister that mistakes had been made in the government’s response – including being too slow to impose a lockdown – and called for Johnson to publish an exit strategy.
“We were too slow to enter the lockdown, too slow to increase the uptake of testing and too slow to get personal protective equipment to frontline NHS and care staff,” Starmer said in the letter.
“We have already seen the consequences of poor planning and preparation. This cannot happen again.”
Johnson initially resisted introducing the lockdown but changed course when projections showed a quarter of a million people could die.
Since the lockdown started on March 23, his government has faced criticism from opposition parties and some doctors for initially delaying measures, for limited testing capabilities, and for a lack of protective equipment for health workers.
Government, party and scientific advisers are divided over how and when Britain should start returning to work, even in limited form. The government is next due to review social distancing measures on May 7.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Andy Bruce, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Stephen Addison)