The UK has seen its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths since the Covid-19 outbreak began, as Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock said they have tested positive for the virus and frontline testing of NHS workers is set to begin.
A total of 759 people have now died in UK hospitals after being diagnosed with coronavirus, while 14,579 have tested positive and hundreds of thousands more people are thought to be infected.
The toll comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on social media within two hours of each other that they had tested positive for Covid-19 and were self-isolating with “mild symptoms”.
They were followed by England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, who tweeted that he had symptoms of coronavirus and was also self-isolating.
It means that the three men leading the fight against the outbreak are self-isolating though all continue to work.
Analysis by the PA news agency shows it took 13 days for the number of deaths in the UK to go from one to just above 100.
It took a further eight days to reach the latest total of 759.
The jump in coronavirus-related deaths in the UK from 578 to 759 is an increase of 181 – the biggest day-on-day rise and a 31% jump on the figures released on Thursday.
At the evening press briefing on Friday, Cabinet minister Michael Gove declined to be drawn on whether MPs had too slow when it came to social distancing, saying the fact both Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock had Covid-19 showed the “virus does not discriminate”, adding: “We are all at risk.”
He said the rate of infection across the UK was doubling every two to three days.
Meanwhile, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said NHS staff would start being tested for coronavirus from next week, including critical care nurses, intensive care staff, ambulance workers and GPs.
He also said that across England there are now 33,000 hospital beds available to treat coronavirus patients.
Currently, there are 6,200 confirmed Covid-19 patients being treated in English hospitals and he said that number is “only bound to rise in the coming days”.
Sir Simon said that as of Thursday, there were just under 3,000 empty and available hospital beds in London, and there would be additional beds next week at the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in east London.
Further NHS Nightingale hospitals are being built in Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre and Manchester’s Central Convention Centre “with further such hospitals to follow”, he said.
Sir Simon also praised NHS staff, adding that in the last two weeks more than 18,000 former staff including doctors and nurses have signed up to return to the front line.
After experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19 last night, in line with the guidance, I will be self-isolating at home for the next seven days.— Professor Chris Whitty (@CMO_England) March 27, 2020
I will be continuing to advise the Government on the medical response to Coronavirus, supported by my deputies.
It comes as:
– US President Donald Trump spoke with Mr Johnson and wished him a “speedy recovery” after the Prime Minister tested positive for coronavirus.
– Michael Gove said the Government has brought together universities, businesses and research institutes in a “new alliance” to boost testing capacity for frontline workers.
– The World Health Organisation said there have been half a million cases of Covid-19 worldwide and 20,000 deaths.
– GP Habib Zaidi, 76, who died at Southend Hospital in Essex, is feared to have become the first doctor in the UK to have died after contracting coronavirus.
– As of 1pm on Thursday, 27 prisoners had tested positive for coronavirus in 14 prisons.
– Firefighters have agreed to deliver food and medicine, drive ambulances and retrieve bodies if mass casualties arise.
– Police began fining people breaching coronavirus lockdown rules, less than 24 hours after new laws were brought into force.
– Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for “ill-judged and poorly timed” emails after the businessman faced fierce criticism when he tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit.
– UK supermarkets said they will use a Government database of 1.5 million vulnerable shoppers to help prioritise delivery slots.
– Labour deputy leadership candidate Angela Rayner announced on Twitter that she is self-isolating after suffering symptoms while Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, is also self-isolating with symptoms.
Earlier, Mr Johnson, who has a high temperature and persistent cough, said he would still lead the “national fightback” against the virus from his flat above Number 11.
The 55-year-old noticed that he had mild symptoms on Thursday afternoon and received the test results at midnight, Downing Street said.
In a video message posted to Twitter, Mr Johnson said: “I’m working from home and self-isolating and that’s entirely the right thing to do.
“But, be in no doubt that I can continue thanks to the wizardry of modern technology to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”
His pregnant partner Carrie Symonds is not with the PM and is reportedly isolating alone in Camberwell, south London, with the couple’s dog, Dilyn.
Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock have been working closely with the country’s top medics, including Prof Whitty, deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Mr Johnson, Mr Hancock and Prof Whitty were among the four people who attended Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting in person, along with Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, with everyone else taking part using video conferencing.
Mr Sedwill is understood not to have displayed any symptoms and has not been tested.
It is not known which close contacts have been tested but Downing Street said the advice on social distancing had been observed in Number 10.
Sir Patrick tweeted that he has experienced no symptoms and has therefore not been tested, while Mr Gove said he, Sir Simon and Dr Harries had not shown any symptoms.
But some scientists were critical of the fact the House of Commons has largely stayed “open for business”, enabling the virus to spread.
Professor Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London, said: “Whilst the PM was telling people to stay at home and keep at least two metres apart from each other, the House of Commons was open for business and face-to-face parliamentary activities were carrying on.”
A spokesman for Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he has not had any symptoms and therefore has not been tested for coronavirus and is not self-isolating.
Meanwhile Radd Seiger, spokesman for the family of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn, said Mr Hancock “irresponsibly failed to socially distance himself” when they met him on March 18 at the Department of Health.
Mr Seiger claimed the Health Secretary had hugged the family and shaken his hand as they met to discuss the teenager’s death.
Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wished Mr Johnson a “speedy recovery” and said he hoped the PM’s “family are safe and healthy”.
He added: “Coronavirus can and does affect anyone. Everyone be safe. Our own health depends on everybody else.”
On Thursday night Mr Johnson applauded the NHS outside Downing Street a couple of metres away from the Chancellor.
Downing Street has previously confirmed that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would stand in if Mr Johnson was too unwell to continue.
If Mr Raab was also ill, the PM has the power to delegate responsibility to any of his ministers.