‘I’m so excited’ – England reopens with pints pulled, shopping sprees and hair cuts

By Carl Recine, Kate Holton and Sarah Young

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Crowds queued up outside shops, pubs started selling pints at midnight and hairdressers welcomed desperate customers on Monday as England started to reopen its economy after three months of lockdown.

After imposing the most onerous restrictions in Britain’s peacetime history, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the reopening was a “major step” towards freedom but urged people to behave responsibly as the coronavirus was still a threat.

Johnson, whose unruly hair style has become a trademark look, was one of thousands who flocked to hairdressers and barbers to have a hair cut on Monday, having waited since early January when the latest lockdown was introduced.

Some folk lined up at bars after midnight or in the morning to raise a pint with fellow revelers.

“It feels good to be back,” Matthew McGuinness, a 21-year-old student told Reuters in the large garden of Wetherspoon’s Fox on the Hill pub in south London. “We planned it last night to come here for a breakfast, get a drink.”

“I would not want to be working behind the bar here tonight. It’s gonna be ridiculous,” he said.

Getting people spending again is crucial for Britain’s recovery after official data showed that 2020 was the worst year for its economy in more than three centuries with a 9.8% decline in gross domestic product.

As the sun rose, dozens of people queued up outside Primark in English cities such as Birmingham and outside JD Sports on Oxford Street in London, undeterred by the unseasonably cold weather.

The John Lewis department store chain said glassware and gifts had been the most popular items as shoppers prepared to host friends and families once again. In the run up to the reopening, John Lewis had also seen a more than 200% jump in sales of dresses.

At the Thorpe Park adventure site near London, visitors ran to the rides as it reopened. Drinkers in pub gardens said they had worn their thermals to be able withstand the cold.

‘SO EXCITED’

In north London, Maggie Grieve reopened the Beaucatcher hairdresser salon to work through the long list of bookings.

“I’m so excited to see my clients: to see how they are and give them that feeling that they get from having had their hair done,” Maggie Grieve, who manages Beaucatcher hairdressers in north London, told Reuters. “Today is going to feel like every hairdresser’s birthday. The well-wishers have already come in: emails, texts, WhatsApps, even neighbors in the street wishing luck and joy. It feels great. Now can’t wait to get to the pub,” Grieve said.

Hundreds of thousands of businesses have been closed since early January when England entered a third lockdown to stem surging infections driven by the “Kent” variant of the virus. The UK has the fifth highest death toll in the world.

But a fast vaccination campaign that has delivered a first shot to well over half of adults has helped to cut deaths by more than 95% and cases by over 90% from the January peak, paving the way for a staggered reopening.

“I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly and remember ‘hands, face, space and fresh air’ to suppress COVID as we push on with our vaccination program,” Johnson said.

His spokesman said the British leader had a haircut earlier on Monday but declined to give any further details.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are reopening at a different pace, determined by their governments. Non-essential stores, such as home and fashion chains, will reopen in Wales as well as England on Monday, although those in Scotland need to wait until April 26.

Pubs and restaurants will only be able to serve outdoors from Monday, with indoor service not allowed until May 17 at the earliest.

($1 = 0.7296 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Andrew Boyers in Warwick and Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper in London; Writing by Paul Sandle, James Davey and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Jane Merriman and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Too soon to say if Britons can take summer holiday abroad, says UK’s Johnson

By Kate Holton, Alistair Smout and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday it was too soon to say whether international summer holidays can go ahead this year, a remark suggesting a planned reopening of outbound travel could be pushed back beyond May 17.

Britons are among Europe’s highest spending tourists so the fortunes of the continent’s summer season and the travel industry, hit hard by restrictions imposed on travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will depend on when tourists can return to the beaches, cafes and taverns of southern Europe.

Britain plans to use a traffic-light risk system for countries once non-essential international travel resumes, but the government said it was too early to say which countries could be given the green light that would only require coronavirus tests before and after travel.

“Taking into account the latest situation with (coronavirus) variants and the evidence about the efficacy of vaccines against them, we will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction,” a government review said.

Johnson told a news conference he was hopeful that non-essential international travel would restart from May 17, but that he did not want to underestimate the growing number of COVID-19 cases elsewhere.

“Obviously we are hopeful that we can get going from May 17th, but I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties that we are seeing in some of the destination countries that people might want to go to,” he said.

British media suggested countries on the green list, requiring testing before and after travel, could include Portugal, Malta, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Under Johnson’s original plan, international travel would not resume until May 17 at the earliest. Countries on the amber list would require self-isolation. Those on the red list would require quarantine.

Airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways, plus holiday groups such as TUI, hope to avoid a second lost summer but COVID-19 cases have risen in continental Europe.

Johnson said a planned reopening of the economy could take place next week, with the opening of all shops, gyms, hairdressers and outdoor hospitality areas in England.

VACCINE PASSPORTS

With the vaccine program rolling out rapidly across Britain and infection numbers falling, Johnson said England could proceed to Stage 2 of his roadmap out of lockdown from April 12.

“On Monday the 12th, I will be going to the pub myself – and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,” Johnson said.

Britain said people should continue to work from home where they can and minimize domestic travel.

Johnson also confirmed that the government was looking at a COVID-19 status certification system, or vaccine passport, to help reopen larger events and to travel.

“I want to stress that there are complicated, ethical, and practical issues… raised by the idea of COVID status certification… using vaccination alone,” Johnson said.

“You’ve got to be very careful in how you handle this and … don’t start a system that’s discriminatory.”

People will not need vaccine certification for pubs, hairdressers and shops, Johnson said.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Timothy Heritage)

A year on from first lockdown, Britain grieves for COVID-19 dead

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – A year to the day after they were first ordered to stay at home to contain the spread of COVID-19, Britons on Tuesday remembered more than 126,000 people who lost their lives to the disease, a toll few people could have imagined in March 2020.

At midday (1200 GMT), people in parliament, hospitals, churches, public places and offices – still mostly empty with millions working at home due to social distancing rules – fell silent for a minute to honor the dead.

People were also being invited to stand on their doorsteps at 8 p.m. holding candles or torches.

Official data show that on March 23, 2020, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson stunned the nation by ordering people to stay at home and shutting down much of the economy, fewer than 1,000 Britons had succumbed to the novel coronavirus.

The number of people known to have died in the United Kingdom within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 now stands at 126,172, the worst toll in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

Johnson, who was himself very ill with COVID-19 in April 2020 and spent three nights in intensive care, opened Tuesday’s cabinet meeting by reflecting on “a very dark and difficult year” for Britain, his Downing Street office said.

Johnson told ministers the nation was mourning for those who have died, and he paid tribute to health and care workers and to society as a whole for keeping the country going.

Queen Elizabeth marked the anniversary by sending spring flowers to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Her husband, 99-year-old Prince Philip, underwent a heart procedure there earlier this month.

“As we look forward to a brighter future together, today we pause to reflect on the grief and loss that continues to be felt by so many people and families,” she said in a message.

HEARTS TO REMEMBER

In the evening, landmarks across the United Kingdom, from the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium to Cardiff Castle and Belfast City Hall will be lit up in yellow as a beacon of hope and support for the bereaved.

At Kew Gardens, the world-renowned botanical gardens in west London, two heart-shaped flower beds made up of yellow tulips, hyacinths and polyanthus were on display, in solidarity with the Yellow Hearts to Remember campaign to support the bereaved.

The past year has tested the country with repeated lockdowns, forced separation on families and friends and months of home schooling on millions of children and left industries fighting for survival.

After a second national lockdown kept people shut up in their homes through much of the winter, Britain is gradually easing restrictions under a four-step plan underpinned by the success of the national vaccination campaign.

Close to 28 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, offering hope of a gradual return to normality.

Johnson paid tribute to scientists, saying he would not have believed 12 months ago that within a year vaccines would have been developed and half Britain’s adult population would have received at least one dose.

For now, however, life remains far from normal.

During rush hour, a small number of London commuters – all wearing face masks – had space to sit down on their way to work, where before the pandemic thousands of people would have been crammed together.

“It’s been a struggle, I’m not going to lie,” said Londoner Tom Johnson on his commute.

“We can sort of see a light at the end of the tunnel now,” he added. “I think we’re quite a strong, resilient sort of country, and I reckon we’ll come back flying.”

(Additional reporting by Toby Melville and Ben Makori; editing by Ed Osmond and Mike Collett-White)

Britain to expand nuclear warhead stockpile by over 40% as global threats rise

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will grow its nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40% to ensure its security in a more risky global environment and as it faces new technological threats, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday.

The country had previously been reducing its nuclear weapons stockpile, and in 2010, the government set a cap of 180 warheads for the mid-2020 period. Johnson scrapped the earlier limit and said the number would now rise to a maximum of 260.

In its security and defense review, Britain said it faced risks from nuclear-armed states, emerging nuclear states and state-sponsored nuclear terrorism, and its nuclear deterrent was needed to guarantee its security and that of its allies.

“Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals,” the government said. “The increase in global competition, challenges to the international order, and proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies all pose a threat to strategic stability.”

The move was criticized by The Elders, a group of former global policymakers who campaign for peace.

“While the UK cites increased security threats as justification for this move, the appropriate response to these challenges should be to work multilaterally to strengthen international arms control agreements and to reduce – not increase – the number of nuclear weapons in existence,” said Mary Robinson, chair of the group.

Questioned over the policy in parliament Johnson said Britain was still committed to global nuclear arms reduction.

Britain also said it planned to replace its current nuclear warhead with a new one which would be able to operate throughout the lifespan of four new submarines being built and due to enter service in the early 2030s.

It will work with the United States to ensure the new warhead remains Trident-compatible.

With its current submarines, Britain said it would stick to its existing policy of always having one submarine of its four nuclear deterrent submarines on continuous patrol.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, additional reporting by William James, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

“Bounce back better together:” PM Johnson urges Britons to lose weight

LONDON (Reuters) – “We’ll bounce back better together,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told overweight Britons on Thursday, championing his own weight loss and healthy eating diet to try to persuade others to get in shape to reduce coronavirus risks.

After being hospitalized with COVID last year, Johnson has often spoken about how he believes his weight was behind how severely ill he became and how since then he has started a new exercise regime and no late-night cheese diet.

Evidence emerging around the world suggests that people who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of getting more severely ill with COVID-19.

“I’ve been doing a lot, in fact everything I can, to lose weight and to feel fitter and healthier. And what I’ve been doing is I’ve been eating less carbs, avoiding chocolate, no more late night cheese, I’ve been getting up early to go for runs and the result is that I actually have lost some weight,” he said on Twitter, unveiling a new scheme to get people fitter.

“What we want to do is encourage another 700,000 people around the country who have the kind of problems that I have had to do the same thing, so we’ll be not just fitter but also healthier and happier and we’ll bounce back better together.”

The government, he said, would spend 100 million pounds to help people to access doctors’ appointments, access the right Apps to help with weight loss and that it was looking at what he called fit miles schemes as well.

His press secretary, Allegra Stratton, told reporters the British leader had lost most probably more than the 14 pounds (6 kilograms), or a stone, he talks about as she believed he was being modest, adding that he takes his diet “very seriously.”

Asked if he had given up drinking alcohol, Stratton said she wasn’t sure if he had cut it out completely. “He certainly was offered a drink yesterday and said no, no I am not drinking at the moment.”

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Andy Bruce)

‘One-way road to freedom’: Johnson sets out cautious lockdown exit plan

By William James and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a map out of lockdown for England on Monday that would keep some businesses shuttered until the summer, saying caution was necessary to ensure there were no reversals on a “one-way road to freedom”.

After imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the western world in January to counter a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus, Johnson said Britain was now in a position to enjoy the fruits of one of the world’s fastest vaccine programs.

Starting in two weeks with the reopening of schools, the phased plan will go through four stages, with at least five weeks in between each stage. The final step, when most restrictions will be lifted, will not start until June 21 at the earliest.

Britain and the world would not eliminate COVID-19 altogether, Johnson said. “And we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children,” Johnson told parliament.

“And that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap is cautious but also irreversible. We’re setting out on, what I hope and believe, is a one-way road to freedom.”

With almost 130,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world’s fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its economy has seen its biggest crash in over 300 years.

But in two months it has already managed to provide an initial vaccine dose to more than a quarter of the population, the fastest rollout of any big country, making it a test case for governments worldwide hoping to return life to normal.

Even with encouraging data on the impact of vaccines, the British government’s cautious approach highlights how slow a process it will likely be for many countries.

UNDER PRESSURE

Johnson has come under pressure, including from many in his Conservative Party, to allow more freedoms to millions stuck at home and offer hope to firms forced to close.

Under his plan schools will reopen on March 8, freeing parents who have had to juggle work and home schooling.

However, easing of social mixing bans will initially be limited and the government will ask people to work from home when possible for some weeks until it has completed a review into social distancing at some point before the summer.

At the end of March, a small number of people will be able to mix outdoors, but non-essential shops, and outdoor-only service in restaurants and pubs, will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest.

As the plan unfolds, lawmakers will have a chance to vote on specific steps. Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are responsible for their own public health, will also ease restrictions over the coming months.

There was mixed reaction from business leaders to the plan. The Confederation of British Industry said it offered hope, but the hospitality industry said it would be hard for many businesses to survive until they could reopen.

“Even with the prime minister’s new roadmap, the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs by a thread,” said Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce.

There were widespread calls for finance minister Rishi Sunak to extend support, such as schemes that have paid the salaries of workers sent home because of the pandemic. An announcement will not come until Sunak delivers his budget next month, but Johnson promised not to “pull the rug out”.

“For the duration of the pandemic the government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK,” Johnson told parliament.

SPEEDY VACCINE ROLL-OUT

Johnson, who was treated in intensive care for COVID-19 last year, has been forced to juggle pressure from Conservative lawmakers to restart the economy and from scientific advisers who fear a resurgence of the virus if he unlocks too quickly.

“The message that comes out of all of the modelling is … get (infection) numbers down before you start releasing, go slowly, (and) go in blocks that you can measure the effect of after four or five weeks,” the government’s top science adviser Patrick Vallance told reporters.

England’s vaccine campaign is significantly reducing cases, with a drop of around 70% in infections among healthcare workers who have had a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, health officials said on Monday.

Britain moved faster than most countries to secure vaccine supplies and has been inoculating people rapidly since December, a strategy that has driven sterling higher on hopes of an economic rebound. The pound hit a new three-year high of $1.4050 in early London trading on Monday.

Some 17.7 million Britons, over a quarter of the 67 million population, have now received a first dose, behind only Israel and the United Arab Emirates in vaccinations per capita.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Smout, Estelle Shirbon, Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton, David Milliken, writing by Michael Holden and Elizabeth Piper, editing by Giles Elgood)

UK PM Johnson wants ‘cautious but irreversible’ path out of COVID-19 lockdown

By Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would plot a cautious but irreversible path out of the COVID-19 lockdown this week after the vaccination of 15 million vulnerable people.

With nearly a quarter of the United Kingdom’s population now inoculated with a first dose of a COVID vaccine in a little over two months, Johnson is under pressure from some lawmakers and businesses to reopen the shuttered economy.

“We’ve got to be very prudent and what we want to see is progress that is cautious, but irreversible,” Johnson told reporters. “If we possibly can, we’ll be setting out dates.”

“If because of the rate of infection, we have to push off something a little bit to the right – delay it for a little bit – we won’t hesitate to do that.”

Johnson, due to set the path out of lockdown on Feb. 22, said the rates of infection were still high and too many people were still dying.

Asked if he would ensure schools reopened on March 8, Johnson said he would do everything he could to ensure that.

If many people get infected, there would be a high risk of mutation in the virus and higher risk of it spreading to older and more vulnerable groups, he said.

The biggest and swiftest global vaccine rollout in history is seen as the best chance of exiting the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed 2.4 million people, tipped the global economy into its worst peacetime slump since the Great Depression, and upended normal life for billions.

The United Kingdom has the world’s fifth-worst official death toll – currently 117,166 – after the United States, Brazil, Mexico and India.

VACCINE PASSPORTS?

Britain has vaccinated 15.062 million people with a first dose and 537,715 with a second dose, the fastest rollout per capita of any large country. Hancock said he expected vaccine supplies to increase as manufacturing accelerated.

An influential group of lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative Party is urging an end to the lockdown as soon as the most vulnerable nine groups are vaccinated. They want no more rules beyond May 1.

“We’re all filled with sorrow for the people we’ve lost, the harms that we’ve suffered but we don’t honor those we’ve loved and lost by wrecking the rest of our lives,” lawmaker Steve Baker said. “We’ve got to find a way to rebuild our society and our economy and our prospects, our livelihoods.”

Britain is speaking to other countries about giving its citizens certificates showing they have been vaccinated so that they can travel abroad in the future to countries that require them, Johnson said.

“That’s going to be very much in the mix, down the road I think that is going to happen,” Johnson said, referring to such certificates. “What I don’t think we will have in this country is, as it were, vaccination passports to allow you to go to the pub, or something like that.”

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; Editing by Peter Graff, Nick Macfie and Bernadette Baum)

UK offers Hong Kong residents route to citizenship, angering China

By Yew Lun Tian and William James

BEIJING/LONDON (Reuters) – Hong Kong residents can apply from Sunday for a new visa giving them the chance to become British citizens following China’s crackdown in the former colony, but Beijing said it will no longer recognize the special British passport already in use.

UK government forecasts say the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain. Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens.

Britain and China have been arguing for months about what London and Washington say is an attempt to silence dissent in Hong Kong after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020.

Britain says it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a new security law on the semi-autonomous city that Britain says breaches the terms of agreements under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997.

“I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, referring to a special British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders.

But China and the Hong Kong government hit back by saying they would no longer recognize the BNO passport as a valid travel document from Sunday, Jan. 31.

“Britain is trying to turn large numbers of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens. This has completely changed the original nature of BNO,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing.

Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong in June last year prompted Britain to offer refuge to almost 3 million Hong Kong residents eligible for the BNO passport from Jan. 31.

The scheme, first announced last year, opens on Sunday and allows those with British National (Overseas) status to live, study and work in Britain for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.

BN(O) is a special status created under British law in 1987 that specifically relates to Hong Kong.

Britain’s foreign ministry said it was disappointed but not surprised by Beijing’s decision not to recognize the BNO passport. China’s move is largely symbolic as Hong Kong residents would not normally use their BNO passports to travel to the mainland. A BNO passport holder in Hong Kong could still use their Hong Kong passport or identity card.

The 250 pound ($340) visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain and generate up to 2.9 billion pounds of net benefit to the British economy over the next five years, according to government forecasts.

It is still highly uncertain how many people will actually take up the offer.

China says the West’s views on its actions over Hong Kong are clouded by misinformation and an imperial hangover.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and William James; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

UK plans tough new border measures to combat coronavirus

By William James and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will announce new tougher border measures on Wednesday to stop new variants of COVID-19 getting into the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he promised to deliver a roadmap out of lockdowns that have shuttered much of the economy.

The government is expected to bring in quarantine hotels for those coming to Britain from high-risk countries where new strains of the coronavirus have emerged – so-called red list nations – such as South Africa and those in South America.

The move comes as Britain’s death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, the first European state to reach that figure, leading to further questions about Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

“The Home Secretary (interior minister) will be setting out later today…even tougher measures for those red list countries where we are particularly concerned about new variants,” Johnson told parliament when asked about plans to strengthen Britain’s borders.

Britain saw infections soar at the end of last year after a highly-contagious new variant that emerged in southeast England surged through the population, taking cases and later deaths to record levels.

Since the start of January, all the United Kingdom has faced lockdowns which have closed schools, pubs and restaurants to all bar takeaways with the public told they must stay home as much as possible.

Johnson and his ministers have faced repeated questions, including from many in his own party, on when measures would be eased especially with regard to school closures. He told lawmakers he would address that issue later on Wednesday when he is due to host a media conference.

“Then in the course of the next few weeks, assuming the vaccine rollout continues well, assuming we don’t find new variants of concern…I will be setting out a broader roadmap for the way forward for the whole country,” he said.

With 100,162 recorded deaths, Britain has the world’s fifth highest toll from COVID-19 and the highest deaths per 100,000 people in the world.

Johnson said he felt deep sorrow about the loss of life when the figures were announced on Tuesday, but said the government had done everything it could.

Asked repeatedly by the leader of the Labor opposition Keir Starmer why Britain had fared so badly, he said there would be a time to learn the lessons of what happened but “I don’t think that moment is now” when 37,000 people were still in hospital suffering from the virus.

“There are no easy answers, perpetual lockdown is no answer,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Anger and grief as United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll nears 100,000

By Andrew MacAskill and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) – As the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll approaches 100,000, grief-stricken relatives of the dead expressed anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the worst public health crisis in a century.

When the novel coronavirus, which first emerged in China in 2019, slid silently across the United Kingdom in March, Johnson initially said he was confident it could be sent packing in weeks.

But 98,531 deaths later, the United Kingdom has the world’s fifth worst official death toll – more than its civilian toll in World War Two and twice the number killed in the 1940-41 Blitz bombing campaign, although the total population was lower then.

Behind the numbers there is grief and anger.

Jamie Brown’s 65-year-old father died at the end of March after it was suspected he contracted COVID-19 while travelling on a train into London for work. At the time, the government was mulling a lockdown.

Told by medics to stay at home, he awoke days later with a tight chest, disorientated and nauseous, and was taken to hospital in an ambulance. He died from a cardiac arrest five minutes after arriving.

His son said the virus had damaged his lungs to the point where his heart gave up. He was a month away from retirement. “For me, it has been terrifying and harrowing to see everything that you hope for taken away. He will never be at my wedding; he will never meet any grandkids,” Brown told Reuters.

“Then, you watch the death toll rising whilst ministers pat themselves on the back and tell you what a good job they have done. It changes very quickly from a personal to a collective grief.”

Some scientists and opposition politicians say Johnson acted too slowly to stop the spread of the virus and then bungled both the government’s strategy and execution of its response.

Johnson has resisted calls for an inquiry into the handling of the crisis and ministers say that while they have not got everything right, they were making decisions at speed and have among the best global vaccination programs.

The United Kingdom’s death toll – defined as those who die within 28 days of a positive test – rose to 98,531 on Monday. The toll has risen by an average of over 1,000 per day for the past seven days.

‘JUST UNFORGIVABLE’ RESPONSE

In a series of investigations, Reuters has reported how the British government made several errors: it was slow to spot the infections arriving, it was late with a lockdown and it continued to discharge infected hospital patients into care homes.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said in March that 20,000 deaths would be a good outcome. Soon after, a worst-case scenario prepared by government scientific advisers put the possible death toll at 50,000.

Many of the bereaved are angry and want an immediate public inquiry to learn lessons from the government’s response.

Ranjith Chandrapala died in early May at the same hospital where he took passengers to and from on his bus.

His daughter, Leshie, said the 64-year-old was slim, healthy and had not missed a day of work driving buses in the last 10 years.

She said he was not issued with a face mask – she bought him one herself – and the passengers were not told to wear them.

“The government’s handling of the crisis has been negligent, it is just unforgivable,” she said. “People in power just sent these guys over the line unprotected.”

Chandrapala stopped work on April 24 after developing COVID-19 symptoms. He died in intensive care 10 days later, with his family unable to say goodbye in person.

Early in the pandemic in March, one of England’s most senior doctors told the public that wearing a face mask could increase the risk of infection. The government made face coverings mandatory for passengers in England on June 15.

Nearly 11 months after the United Kingdom recorded its first death, some British hospitals look like a “war zone”, Vallance said, as doctors and nurses battle more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that scientists fear could be more deadly.

On the COVID-19 frontline, patients and medics are fighting for life.

Joy Halliday, a consultant in intensive care and acute medicine at Milton Keynes University Hospital, said it was “truly heartbreaking” for staff to see so many patients die.

“(Patients) deteriorate very, very quickly, and they go from talking to you and looking actually very well, to 20 minutes later no longer talking to you, to a further 20 minutes later no longer being alive,” she said.

“That is incredibly difficult for everyone.”

(Writing by Paul Sandle; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mike Collett-White)