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26,097 coronavirus victims

BRITAIN’S official coronavirus death toll jumped to 26,097 yesterday as daily figures outside hospitals were included for the first time.

But experts warned the total, which shows an increase of 765 deaths, could be an underestimate because it only measures those tested amid fears more people are now dying from Covid-19 in care homes than hospitals.

Deputy chief medical officer Yvonne Doyle said the figures provided a ‘comprehensive picture’ as deaths in hospitals decline but could not say if they were increasing in care homes. ‘Since this epidemic began in care homes, which still continues, there has been a huge effort to get tests to the homes and ensure staff get the tests they need,’ she told the daily press briefing. The UK now has the third highest death toll in the world behind the US and Italy, but is on course to overtake Italy in days.

Deaths in English and Welsh care homes are known to have tripled to 7,316 in the week to April 17 — with 2,050 attributed to the virus. Scotland has said more than half of its coronavirus deaths are in care homes.

A similar rate in England and Wales could push the UK toll past 40,000.

University of Oxford statistics professor Sir David Speigelhalter said care home patients ‘have been called collateral damage of the lockdown and it’s very worrying indeed’.

Mike Padgham, who runs Scarborough-based St Cecilia’s Care Group, said care homes ‘should have been a priority from the beginning, rather than half way through’. He told the BBC: ‘Our staff would have to go around 120 miles to be tested.’

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) — who has been standing in for the prime minister — told the briefing his priority had always been care homes and the NHS. ‘We’ve known about this challenge and probably the biggest thing is making sure we control the ebb and flow of people into these care homes,’ he added. But it was March 13 before the government asked care homes not to admit visitors with suspected coronavirus or those feeling ‘generally unwell’.

Mr Raab also ruled out any relaxation of the lockdown before the next official review on May 7 and said ‘we mustn’t gamble away the sacrifices we’ve made’.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has alerted global experts to a rare but serious syndrome affecting children. Fewer than 20 children in England have been admitted to hospital with the syndrome, which causes a toxic shock-style inflammatory reaction.

Experts are unsure if it is related to coronavirus.