UK COVID Death Toll Passes 100,000

The UK death toll is the worst in Europe, and behind only the US, Brazil, India and Mexico. Experts say the bleak milestone could still be an underestimation.
January 26, 2021, 6:33pm
UK COVID Death Toll Passes 100,000
A woman watches the Downing Street briefing on a display board in London. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

More than 100,000 people in the UK have died with COVID, giving the country the highest death toll in Europe.

On Tuesday an additional 1,631 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were recorded, taking the overall official death toll by this measure to 100,162. Only the US, Brazil, India and Mexico have suffered more COVID deaths.

Last March, in the early days of the pandemic, Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that 20,000 deaths would be a "good result" for the UK. The government’s own ”worst-case scenario” predicted no more than 50,000 deaths.

Speaking at a televised briefing, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he took “full responsibility” for the government’s actions, and was “deeply sorry” for each life lost.

“It’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic: the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives, the missed chance to even say goodbye,” he said. “When we've come through this crisis we will come together as a nation, to remember everyone we lost and to honour the selfless heroism of all those on the frontlines who gave their lives to save others.”

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Labour leader Keir Starmer said the UK death toll surpassing 100,000 was “nothing more than a national tragedy.”

“[It is] a terrible reminder of what we’ve lost as a country,” he said. “An awful reminder that we have one of the worst death tolls in the world.”

"This is a sobering moment in the pandemic,” Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, commented. “Each death is a person who was someone’s family member and friend. This virus has sadly taken millions of lives across the world, but we have learnt a lot about this coronavirus over the past year.”

The official death toll may still be an underestimation. Last week, the Guardian reported that 100,000 deaths had been exceeded based on analysis of government figures and statistical models.

“I would say that figure probably seriously underestimates the actual number of deaths to a large extent,” Paul Hunter, professor of medicine and health protection at the University of East Anglia, told VICE World News. “Lots of people undoubtedly died in April and March from COVID, without it appearing on the death certificate and without it appearing in the figures. I personally estimate that at about 20,000, unrecorded deaths.”

According to Hunter, had the UK acted faster, lives would have been saved. “If we'd acted quicker in March, if we'd been more prepared in March, if we hadn't relaxed our restrictions too soon, and if we hadn't encouraged people to go out and into busy restaurants in August, we might have ended up heading into September with far fewer cases than we had.”

“We would, undoubtedly, have had far fewer deaths with the new variant than we have, certainly over the last the death rates in December and January,” he added.

Emilie Cousins, 28, caught coronavirus in March after travelling to the US. They have been suffering from the long-term effects of COVID ever since. “There are no adequate words for this horrific milestone,” they said. “The terrifying part of this is knowing that so many of those people will end up with ‘long COVID’, like myself. COVID isn’t just about death or recovery, it can leave people chronically ill. We’re going to have colossal numbers of people struggling with these debilitating symptoms for years to come, unable to work, unable to care for family members, unable to live life as they did, and that’s being ignored by the government so far.”

Lauren Wiles, 18, lost her father to COVID at the beginning of the pandemic. “My dad was one of the first 10,000 people to die and to see that death rate be 10 times bigger than it was when my dad passed is absolutely unfathomable,” she told VICE World News.

“The government has had plenty of chances to figure out how to save lives and the fact that more people are dying than ever, there's something wrong. It is unacceptable.”