Europe’s most powerful countries urged the European Union to better prepare for the next pandemic as the number of suspected and confirmed deaths from coronavirus in Britain passed the grim milestone of 50,000.
There should be a “common European approach” to challenges like Covid-19 in future, leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a letter and policy paper to the European Union’s top official.
Europe has been the hardest-hit continent with nearly 185,000 people killed, and the leaders said a lack of coordination had left nations short of crucial medical equipment when the coronavirus arrived.
In the UK, Business Secretary Alok Sharma cited analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which said 50,107 people had died in the outbreak.
The ONS assessed all deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned or suspected on the death certificate up to May 29.
Officially, the government only counts the deaths of those who had tested positive for Covid-19. That figure rose to 40,968 on Tuesday, up 286 on Monday.
On either measure, the toll is Europe’s worst and the second highest in the world behind the United States, although each country has different reporting methods and lag times.
Worldwide, Covid-19 deaths have passed 409,000, with more than 7 million infections.
The United States recorded 819 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing its own grisly toll to more than 111,000 out of 1.9 million cases – leaving it the country hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of both the number of fatalities and the number of cases.
And the crisis continued to escalate in Latin America, which by late Tuesday had almost 1.4 million cases and nearly 70,000 deaths. Brazil closely trails the UK with more than 37,000 deaths.
Britain has imposed a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the country, British nationals included.
The country’s ONS data showed that deaths in England and Wales exceeded the average of the last five years by 57,961 in the 10-week period since the outbreak took hold in March.
Despite the figures, Sharma said infection and death rates were falling, and the UK lockdown, which has been in force since March, could be eased further.
Sharma said that all non-essential shops in England could reopen from June 15, as long as they comply with health and safety guidelines.
“This is the latest step in the careful restarting of our economy and will enable high streets up and down the country to spring back to life,” said Sharma.
He added that the two-metre social distancing rule in place in the UK would remain when shops reopen, despite speculation it might be relaxed.
But he ruled out reopening pubs and restaurants until July 4 at the earliest.
Despite Europe’s dire record, most countries on the continent continued to exit their punishing lockdowns on Tuesday, with Cyprus welcoming its first tourist flights in almost three months and French officials announcing the Eiffel Tower would reopen on June 25.
Residents of the Moscow flocked to parks after officials lifted restrictions in place since March 30, even though 8,595 new cases were registered in Russia on Tuesday and the death toll passed 6,000.
The World Health Organisation has warned that complacency was the biggest threat in countries where the pandemic seems to have abated.
A UK study published Wednesday said widespread face mask use could push Covid-19 transmission down to controllable levels for national epidemics and could prevent further waves of the pandemic disease when combined with lockdowns.
The research, led by scientists at the Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities, suggests lockdowns alone would not stop the resurgence of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, but that even home-made masks can dramatically reduce transmission rates if enough people wear them in public.
“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public,” said Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at Cambridge.
The study’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A scientific journal.
The WHO updated its guidance on Friday to recommend that governments ask everyone to wear fabric face masks in public areas where there is a risk to reduce the spread of the disease.