NHS England announced 39 more patients had died, with the oldest victim being a 99-year-old. Wales also recorded another fatality today.
Eighteen of the deaths were recorded in London, the centre of Britain’s escalating outbreak.
England has yet to update its infection toll but hundreds more cases are expected. Some 3,355 patients have been struck down in the UK already.
But the true size of Britain’s outbreak is currently being masked because authorities have decided to only test patients in hospital.
Officials fear up to 180,000 people may have already caught the virus, with experts estimating 1,000 cases for every one death.
Almost half of the latest deaths were recorded in the capital, fuelling claims that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to put the city on lockdown tonight.
The move would see pubs, restaurants and other social centres across London finally ordered to close their doors.
The city and its nine-million population is ahead of the curve on coronavirus infections, according to scientists, but social media has been awash with pictures showing bars bursting at the seams with people seemingly indifferent to the risk.
There was widespread furious criticism of Tim Martin, the multi-millionaire Wetherspoon boss, for saying he intended to help people ignoring expert advice to self-isolate at home as much as possible by keeping his chain open.
Other venues that could be subjected to closure orders from authorities include any cinemas and gyms that have yet to shut their doors to customers.
It came as experts warned today that Boris Johnson’s coronavirus plan could fail and leave the NHS on the brink unless at least half the public obey self-isolation and ‘social distancing’ rules.
No10 sources cautioned that a final decision on compulsory shutdowns has not been taken, saying ‘we’re not there just yet’.
The JJ Moon’s in Tooting, south London, was packed with punters at lunchtime today
Drinkers seemed unfazed by the advice at JJ Moon’s in Tooting this afternoon – as the Mayor of London warned he would ban people from pubs
But they did not rule out an announcement at the Prime Minister’s daily press conference tonight. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is also understood to be expecting a significant move this evening, but has not been given details yet.
Mr Khan earlier hit out at people who continue to go to pubs and use public transport, warning he will ‘infringe’ their human rights if necessary.
He threatened to ban people from going to the pub and cafés himself in a stark address to the London Assembly last night.
It came after Mr Johnson was earlier slammed for ‘sending confusing messages which cost lives’.
He has for days urged people to stay away from pubs – but No 10 this morning failed to criticise the Wetherspoon chairman for refusing to close his bars during the coronavirus crisis.
The Conservative Party donor and boozer chain figurehead sparked fury this morning as he said closing pubs was ‘over the top’ despite warnings from the government’s chief scientific adviser that bars are a breeding ground for the deadly virus.
Mr Martin told the BBC that a ‘sensible balance’ was for pubs to implement ‘social distancing’ measures, like no standing at the bar, using cards and sitting at separate tables.
He sparked further outrage as he told Sky that ‘supermarkets posed more of a danger than pubs’.
In response to Mr Martin’s comments, the Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman simply said the government has, ‘been clear about the importance of social distancing’.
Asked if he was nervous about criticising political supporters of Boris Johnson, the spokesman said: ‘We’ve based all our decisions on the best scientific evidence and we will continue to do so.’
The PM this week was met with anger from the hospitality industry as he told people not to visit pubs, clubs and cafes – but stopped short of closing them, meaning venues are losing footfall and cannot claim insurance.
Meanwhile, foolhardy revellers continue to flock to pubs and clubs across the country as they ignore calls urging social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease.
Mr Martin told Sky: ‘Supermarkets are very, very crowded. Pubs are much less crowded. There’s hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs and I think it’s over the top to shut them.
‘That’s a commercial view but also a common sense view.’
Startling new data released on Wednesday night shows 29 percent of the first 2,500 cases of coronavirus in America were people between the ages of 20 and 44.
Of that number, 20 percent were hospitalised and 12 percent put in intensive care units. Some 55 percent of the cases were all under the age of 65.
Social media users have criticised Mr Martin’s ‘grossly irresponsible’ stance and for ‘putting money before health’.
The hashtag, ‘#BoycottWetherspoons’ is now trending on Twitter.
Many have urged him to use his platform in the same way as celebrities including Kylie Jenner, who has encouraged youngsters to stay at home.
Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: ‘Yesterday the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser said ‘mixing in pubs and restaurants needs to stop’.
‘Today the government is refusing to condemn Weatherspoon’s owner Tim Martin for suggesting the opposite. Confusing messages will cost lives. Pubs and restaurants must close.’
Mr Martin today said falling sales at the chain have dropped further after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told punters to stay at home and not visit Britain’s pubs.
The pub chain said that sales, which had risen by 3.2% in the previous six weeks, started falling by 4.5% in the week ending March 15, as the coronavirus pandemic scared customers off.
The decline picked up even further when the Prime Minister told people that it was vital they do not visit pubs in order to slow the spread of the highly infectious disease.
But despite warnings from the government’s chief scientific adviser urging young people to stop going to the pub, he refused to close his bars, sparking anger among many.
He told Sky: ‘Our aim is for pubs open for the duration. This could go on for a long time. I think that once you shut them down it’s very difficult.’
Asked about Mr Martin’s decision to keep his pubs open, the Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman said: ‘We have been clear throughout that every decision that has been made, and will be made, has been made based on the best scientific advice.
‘That will continue – we have heard the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser talk about social distancing and we will continue to act on scientific advice.
‘We have been clear about the need for social distancing. We have asked the public to do what they have to do, and we have been clear on the reasons for doing that.’
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said ‘liberties and human rights need to be changed, curtailed, infringed’ in order to protect people and prevent further coronavirus deaths.
He threatened to ban people from going to the pub and cafés in his stark address to the London Assembly last night.
Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, meanwhile, has warned young adults they will not ‘breeze through’ coronavirus.
Chris Whitty said: ‘It is clear that children get this disease much less strongly than adults, I think the data on that is pretty strong now, and it certainly is the case that the majority of those that end up dying sadly are people who tend to be either in the later part of their lives, usually quite elderly, or those with pre-existing health conditions.
‘But there are also some young people who have ended up in intensive care or who have ended up with severe disease around the world.
‘I think it’s important that we don’t give the impression that every single person who is young and healthy is just going to breeze through this.’
And the government’s chief scientific adviser begged young people to stop going to the pub and claims the UK cannot beat coronavirus if they keep flouting home confinement rules.
Sir Patrick Vallance slammed young people’s complacency and said ‘mixing’ in bars and restaurants ‘needs to stop’ because it is allowing the disease run rampant.
Sir Vallance warned a coronavirus vaccine was still at least six months away and said the only way the outbreak could be delayed until then was if everyone stuck to the Government’s tough new social restrictions.
His plea came after Britons were filmed partying into the early hours in packed pubs and nightclubs around the country this week, defying ministers.
Social media users slammed drinkers pictured last night out and about in Leeds.
Jeremiah Hyde wrote: ‘Shocking isn’t it!? Some London pubs are packed. Dangerous irresponsible idiocy.’
Another, @Etherea68347170, added: ‘People aren’t exercising social distancing, bars are packed! Please Boris, for the love of God… and your people… shut the pubs!’
Will Saville commented: ‘People are so stupid going into pubs, clubs, gyms. So selfish when the NHS are warning people against social contact yet people are quite happy to be packed into one place.’
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,
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
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.