Britain’s growing coronavirus death toll today jumped to 578 after 113 more fatalities were confirmed across the home nations, making today the UK’s darkest day yet in the escalating outbreak. 

Health officials also more than 2,100 new patients had tested positive for the life-threatening infection, meaning almost 12,000 cases of COVID-19 have now been recorded in Britain. 

It comes after the UK yesterday posted 43 coronavirus deaths, sparking hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unprecedented lockdown was working to control the ever-worsening crisis.

But officials changed the timings of how they counted deaths, with yesterday’s total only taking into account an eight-hour period. Today’s shocking figure represents a full 24-hour count. 

The daily death count is not only a count from overnight – the toll can include fatalities hospitals have only just processed, for example patients whose post-mortems have just come back.

Government scientists have admitted there is likely to be 1,000 infected patients for every death recorded in Britain – suggesting the true toll is in the region of 600,000. 

Number 10 has faced fierce criticism for its controversial policy to only test patients in hospital, meaning only a fraction of cases are being spotted and leaving the true scale of the UK’s outbreak a mystery.

The latest statistics came as Rishi Sunak finally announced a coronavirus bailout for millions of self-employed workers as the Chancellor unveiled plans to hand them cash payments of up to £2,500 a month.

A week after announcing a massive rescue package for employees, the Chancellor announced support for taxi drivers, musicians, gig economy workers and freelancers.

Saying he knew people were ‘worrying about their jobs and incomes’, Mr Sunak said: ‘You have not been forgotten.’

But at a press conference in Downing Street he also delivered a stark warning that the government ‘will not be able to protect every single job or save every single business’ as the deadly disease brings the economy grinding to a halt.     

In other developments to the UK’s coronavirus crisis today: 

  • Police were accused of an ‘over the top’ response to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown as it emerged they have set up road blocks to stop and quiz drivers on a whim and even chased dog walkers and ramblers with drones;
  • One of the government’s top advisers said the UK’s epidemic will get worse before it gets better but could peak by Easter;
  • Dyson has been handed an order of 10,000 ventilators from the Government – as long as the machines pass early tests;
  • Retailer Boots begged people not to turn up demanding tests because it has yet to receive any;
  • Royal aides tried to trace anyone Prince Charles has met in the last fortnight after he tested positive for the disease.
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out a package of support for self-employed workers at this afternoon’s press conference

WHERE ARE THE CORONAVIRUS CASES AND DEATHS IN THE UK? 

LOCATION IN UK

London

South East

South West

North West

NE and Yorks

Midlands

East of England

Unconfirmed

ENGLAND 

N IRELAND 

WALES

SCOTLAND  

BRITAIN TOTAL

CASES

3,247

876

397

703

698

1,296

480

276

7,973

241

741

894 

9,849 

DEATHS

155

63

23

53

24

67

29

0

414

10

28

25

477

The UK’s death toll jump came as police set up road blocks to stop cars and demand journey details with one force even sending up a drone to chase dog walkers, ramblers and ‘lycra lout’ cyclists.

Derbyshire Police’s drone unit has taken the extraordinary step of using one its unmanned aircraft to swoop on people flouting the travel ban – while on Tyneside Northumbria Police broke up a football match because only two people can gather together for the next three weeks.

North Yorkshire Police said it will now be using unannounced checkpoints to stop vehicles and order drivers to divulge details of their journeys with Devon doing the same as the Home Office announced new sweeping powers for officers to help them break up public gatherings.

Those powers include the ‘last resort’ ability to force people to go home if they fail to listen to police direction or take notice of a £60 fine.

Police patrols have also started to stop train passengers in Swansea to make sure their travel is ‘essential’.

The use of travel checks sparked fierce criticism from civil liberties groups with police officers now seemingly being tasked with deciding how important someone’s journey is amid reports of dog walkers being told to go home after driving to a public space for exercise and of builders being stopped from driving to a job.

Police stop people on trains to check their journeys as coronavirus clampdown ramps up 

Police patrols have been stopping train passengers for spotchecks in a bid to enforce the coronavirus lockdown.

Officers have been seen patrolling train stations in Swansea to check passengers should only be making ‘essential’ journeys.

Passengers at Swansea train station were asked for proof of their travel plans – and urged to take a single journey to their destination and home again.

Police are being given powers to issue £30 on-the-spot fines to those breaking the lockdown – and court appearances for non-payment.

South Wales Police declined to comment on the specifics of what officers were doing at Swansea station.

The force’s chief constable, Matt Jukes, has previously said: ‘South Wales Police has a track record of maintaining public order and safety in huge events and at times of emergency. We have always done so positively, with pride and professionalism.

‘So, we will continue to do what we do best – engage with people. We will ask them to support their communities and stick to these important restrictions.

‘As the public would expect, we will also enforce the existing law when this is necessary and new legal powers, as they come into effect.’

Experts have said the enforcement will divert officers from investigating some crimes, but forces including the Met insist it can form part of their usual patrol duties.

The row over police lockdown powers came as Mr Sunak set out a package of support for self-employed workers. 

But his announcement of a self-employed income support scheme prompted immediate questions about hundreds of thousands of people who will miss out and why the scheme will not be operational before June.

The package offers taxable grants of 80 per cent of average monthly profits, calculated over the last three years, and worth up to £2,500 a month. 

However, those who have more than £50,000 in annual trading profits – amounting to 200,000 people – will not be eligible. 

Officials have calculated from tax records that 3.8million will be entitled to the payouts, with the typical award likely to be £940 a month. The total costs are estimated at £3billion a month.  

Even with the latest spending announcement by the Chancellor he warned the government will not be able to save every job and businesses. 

‘Despite these extraordinary steps there will be challenging times ahead,’ he said during the now daily government press conference at 10 Downing Street.

‘We will not be able to protect every single job or save every single business.’ 

Mr Sunak said: ‘The scheme I have announced today is fair. 

‘It is targeted at those who need it the most and crucially it is deliverable and it provides an unprecedented level of support for self-employed people.’

He said: ‘These last 10 days have shaken our country and economy as never before.

‘In the last two weeks we have put aside ideology and orthodoxy to mobilise the full power and resources of the British state.

‘We have done so in the pursuit of a single goal: To protect people’s health and economic security. 

‘By supporting public services like our NHS, backing businesses and protecting people’s jobs and incomes.

‘What we have done will I believe stand as one of the most significant economic interventions at any point in the history of the British state and by any government anywhere in the world.’ 

Mr Sunak admitted the very recently self-employed will not be included in the scheme and must look for welfare support.

He said: ‘For those who are very recently self-employed, we cannot operate a scheme like this, there’s too much complexity both operationally and fraud risk with that, so we would have to say to those people please look at the extra support we’ve put into the welfare system to help you at this time.

‘But, as I’ve said, this covers the vast, vast majority of people.’   

Treasury sources said 5.75million people fill in a self-assessment tax return. 

Of those 1.7million earn less than half their income through self-employment. 

A further 200,000 earn too much to be eligible for today’s package.  The other 3.8million will be able to access the support. 

A group of men were today pictured enjoying the sun in east London - despite the Government's clear instruction to stay at home to save lives

A group of men were today pictured enjoying the sun in east London - despite the Government's clear instruction to stay at home to save lives

A group of men were today pictured enjoying the sun in east London – despite the Government’s clear instruction to stay at home to save lives

A group of four people talk to each other at Broadway Market in Hackney, London, today. The government has said those in self-isolation are allowed to leave the house for one form of exercise a day - a walk, run or cycle alone or with other members of your household. Dog owners are allowed to walk their pets, but groups of more than two people are not allowed

A group of four people talk to each other at Broadway Market in Hackney, London, today. The government has said those in self-isolation are allowed to leave the house for one form of exercise a day - a walk, run or cycle alone or with other members of your household. Dog owners are allowed to walk their pets, but groups of more than two people are not allowed

A group of four people talk to each other at Broadway Market in Hackney, London, today. The government has said those in self-isolation are allowed to leave the house for one form of exercise a day – a walk, run or cycle alone or with other members of your household. Dog owners are allowed to walk their pets, but groups of more than two people are not allowed

People were pictured enjoying the sun in London Fields today. The advice has proven problematic for those in built-up areas whose only nearby green-space is a park shared by thousands of others looking to exercise at the same time

People were pictured enjoying the sun in London Fields today. The advice has proven problematic for those in built-up areas whose only nearby green-space is a park shared by thousands of others looking to exercise at the same time

People were pictured enjoying the sun in London Fields today. The advice has proven problematic for those in built-up areas whose only nearby green-space is a park shared by thousands of others looking to exercise at the same time

Meanwhile Broadway Market in East London was packed with people this afternoon - with no police officer in sight

Meanwhile Broadway Market in East London was packed with people this afternoon - with no police officer in sight

Meanwhile Broadway Market in East London was packed with people this afternoon – with no police officer in sight

Derbyshire Police sent up their drone and filmed people on 'not essential' trips to the Peak District including people posing for an 'Instagram snap'

Derbyshire Police sent up their drone and filmed people on 'not essential' trips to the Peak District including people posing for an 'Instagram snap'

Derbyshire Police sent up their drone and filmed people on ‘not essential’ trips to the Peak District including people posing for an ‘Instagram snap’

The force says that people should not be heading to the Peak District to admire the sunset while Britain is in lockdown

The force says that people should not be heading to the Peak District to admire the sunset while Britain is in lockdown

The force says that people should not be heading to the Peak District to admire the sunset while Britain is in lockdown

HOW HAS THE UK’S DEATH TOLL INCREASED OVER THE PAST 10 DAYS? 

DATE

Mar 16

Mar 17

Mar 18

Mar 19

Mar 20

Mar 21

Mar 22

Mar 23

Mar 24

Mar 25

NEW DEATHS 

20

16

33

33

40

56

48

54

87

43

TOTAL DEATHS

55

71

104

137

177

233

281

335

422

465

The unveiling of tougher police powers to deal with group gatherings had earlier dominated the day. 

Nicola Sturgeon appeared to pre-empt the Home Office’s official announcement on police powers as she set out her plans for police in Scotland at lunchtime which will see people who refuse to adhere to the ban on groups ‘made to return home’.

It is not the first time the Scottish First Minister has acted before the UK government on a coronavirus issue after she did the same on banning large gatherings to ease pressure on emergency services and on school closures.

Members of the public have been urged by Andy Cooke, the chief constable of Merseyside Police, to report large gatherings as the authorities move to enforce the Prime Ministers ‘stay at home’ message.

Mr Cooke said he would ‘expect’ people to report large groups but not to bother officers if it is ‘two or three people stood at the end of the road’.

The apparent need for the new police powers to break up gatherings has been illustrated by reports of officers being called to friends having barbecues, house parties and games of football.

It came as a new poll conducted for ITV’s Peston programme suggested almost six million people across the UK are continuing to go about their daily lives as normal amid fears spring sunshine could tempt even more to flout the rules.

Social distancing lines are taped across a supermarket floor to encourage people to stay at least two meters apart at a Tesco in Peterborough

Social distancing lines are taped across a supermarket floor to encourage people to stay at least two meters apart at a Tesco in Peterborough

Social distancing lines are taped across a supermarket floor to encourage people to stay at least two meters apart at a Tesco in Peterborough 

Huge queues wait patiently as they keep a safe distance outside the Asda supermarket in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne

Huge queues wait patiently as they keep a safe distance outside the Asda supermarket in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne

Huge queues wait patiently as they keep a safe distance outside the Asda supermarket in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne

WHY WERE THE NUMBER OF DEATHS IN THE UK SO LOW ON MARCH 25? 

The UK yesterday recorded just 43 coronavirus deaths, the lowest daily toll sine last Friday.

The low figure sparked suggestions that Boris Johnson’s unprecedented lockdown was working. 

But it was down to Government officials changing the way the numbers were recorded.

Yesterday only took into account any deaths recorded between 9am and 5pm – a period of eight hours.

From now, officials will count COVID-19 deaths from between 5pm and 5pm. 

The daily death count is not only a count from overnight – the toll can include older fatalities only just processed.

For example, hospitals may confirm a dead patient had COVID-19 after carrying out a post-mortem.

In other developments, young and healthy people have been urged to stay away from supermarkets and make meals from food in their cupboards as demand for groceries and household goods surges during the coronavirus lockdown.

Britons have hoarded food worth £1 billion during the past fortnight as a result of panic buying – despite assurances from the government and industry that there is still plenty in the supply chain.

The CEO of Tesco is encouraging shoppers who are fit and healthy to use stores in order to free-up delivery slots for online orders to the elderly and vulnerable.

But the boss of Ocado told people to ‘make their meals work’, adding: ‘The first thing is ‘don’t panic’. There isn’t going to be no food tomorrow. Nobody will starve.’

NHS England national medical director Stephen Powis accused panic buyers of depriving healthcare staff of the food supplies they need, adding: ‘Frankly we should all be ashamed.’

Consumers shifted online as they feared supermarkets could become breeding grounds for the virus, after panic-buyers stripped shelves bare, stockpiling everything from pasta to toilet paper and paracetamol.

But the move has now led to home delivery slots being largely unavailable until mid April.

Ocado has been operating at full capacity during the crisis and said yesterday it had around ten times more demand for its services than it did before the outbreak began.

Online orders are now limited to one per week per customer, while some items have also been limited to just two per person.

Chief executive of the online delivery service, Lord Stuart Rose, urged consumers to act rationally as he revealed Britons had hoarded an extra £1billion worth of food over the past couple of weeks. 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

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