London – The UK government said on Friday it was
rushing to build more emergency field hospitals ahead of an expected surge in
coronavirus cases, hours after recording a record 569 deaths from the disease.
Two new facilities will be built in Bristol in the
west and Harrogate in the north to house up to 1 500 patients, the state-run
National Health Service (NHS) said in a statement.
The announcement comes as a similar 4 000-bed
facility in London – built in less than 10 days – prepares to open on Friday,
and as criticism mounts over the government’s failure to provide screening,
particularly for frontline healthcare workers.
“Further such hospitals will open next in
Birmingham and Manchester, offering up to 3 000 beds between them,” the
NHS statement added.
The health ministry announced a record 569 deaths
from the virus in Britain in the 24 hours up to 16:00 (GMT) on Wednesday – the
largest single-day rise yet.
It followed 563 deaths over the previous
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Britain will
“massively increase testing” for the Covid-19 virus following
criticism of his initial light-touch approach to the outbreak.
Johnson has been in self-isolation “with mild
symptoms” at his Downing Street official residence since announcing on 27 March
that he had caught the virus.
Heir to the throne Prince Charles on Thursday made
his first public comments since coming out of self-quarantine after contracting
the disease, telling the PA news agency the experience had been “strange,
frustrating and often distressing”.
In a video message, he praised the “utter,
selfless devotion to duty” of Britain’s health workers.
The country took part in another collective round
of applause at 20:00 on Thursday, with social media videos capturing cheers
across its cities, towns and villages.
Johnson is facing criticism even in normally
supportive media outlets after officials revealed that just 2 000 out of about
500 000 NHS staff had been tested.
Health minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday the
government was “determined” to scale up tests across the board in the
coming weeks, with a “goal of 100 000 tests per day by the end of this
Hancock blamed global demand for swabs and reagents
for the lack of tests, and said that some they had bought were faulty.
In order to meet the demand, the government said it
would work with private firms such as Amazon and chemist Boots, and that three
new “mega labs” would soon be online.
Testing for the general public has also been
criticised as not widespread enough and is currently largely limited to
hospital admissions of the most serious Covid-19 patients.
On Tuesday, 10 000 hospital patients and NHS staff
were tested in England, well below the daily target of 25 000 and the 70 000 a
day achieved in Germany, which has been used as a comparison.
Paul Nurse, chief executive of biomedical research
centre the Francis Crick Institute, told the BBC on Thursday that the
government should summon “the Dunkirk spirit” and let “small ship”
labs start screening for the killer disease.
So far, Public Health England (PHE), the body
tasked with testing, has insisted all screening should be carried out
PHE medical director Professor Paul Cosford
defended his organisation’s work.
“At the very outset we identified this, we got
the tests in place, we designed the tests in our laboratories. We have played
our part,” he told BBC radio.
Britain is currently in the second week of a
three-week lockdown, with non-essential shops shut and the public asked to stay
at home to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The government has promised an enormous package of
support for businesses and employees hit by the measures.
New government figures show 950 000 people applied
for state welfare support known as universal credit in the last two weeks. It
is available to the unemployed and those on low incomes.
With economic headwinds gathering pace, national
carrier British Airways is also to temporarily lay off 28 000 staff, the union
representing its workers announced on Thursday.
Hancock, meanwhile, demanded that English Premier
League footballers take a pay cut amid outrage at top flight clubs using a
government furlough scheme for non-playing staff.