Johnson warns Covid increase among elderly could lead to rising death toll

Coronavirus cases among the elderly and in care homes are rising, as Boris Johnson admitted there was insufficient capacity in the testing system.

The Prime Minister faced MPs as the Government was drawing up a list setting out who will be at the front of the queue for coronavirus tests after a “colossal spike” in demand.

Mr Johnson said the disease was spreading from the young to the more vulnerable elderly, with the rate of cases among the over-80s doubling in just days – and warned that would “lead to mortality”.

The Prime Minister also told MPs “we are concerned about the rates of infection in care homes” and promised a new action plan, including tougher rules on staff moving between different care settings.

Mr Johnson faced the Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions and senior MPs in the Liaison Committee amid mounting concern about failures in the coronavirus testing system.

He told the committee: “What we are now seeing is, unfortunately, the progression of the disease from younger groups who – as everybody knows are much less prone to its worst effects – up into the older groups.

“The incidence amongst the 80-plus group is now 12 per 100,000, where only a few days ago it was about half that and it is growing.

“Alas, although the number of cases – symptomatic or asymptomatic – is obviously far smaller than it was in the spring, we must expect those infections, proportionately, to lead to mortality.

“That is the reality.”

The Prime Minister’s comments came as the Government said that as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 3,991 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK – the highest daily tally since May 8.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson was faced by Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner – as Sir Keir Starmer was among those caught up by delays in the coronavirus testing system.

Shortly before PMQs, Sir Keir said a test on a family member had come back negative and he was able to leave self-isolation.

Ms Rayner warned that “we are staring down the barrel of a second wave with no plan for the looming crisis” and she suggested Mr Johnson’s Government was focused more on the continuation of shooting than the return of family life under the coronavirus restrictions.

“People can’t say goodbye to their loved ones, grandparents can’t see their grandchildren and frontline staff can’t get the tests that they need – and what was the top priority for the Covid war cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting,” she said.

Mr Johnson defended the Government’s efforts to increase testing, claiming “it actually compares extremely well with any other European country”.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister’s Questions

He acknowledged the frustration around the demand for tests, but said capacity was being increased and said the Government wanted 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.

At the Liaison Committee, he admitted “we don’t have enough testing capacity now because, in an ideal world, I would like to test absolutely everybody that wants a test immediately”.

He urged people without symptoms to stay away from testing centres – although he acknowledged the reasons why they may want to find out if they had Covid-19.

“What has happened is demand has massively accelerated just in the last couple of weeks,” he told MPs.

“The chaos in the testing system – with people denied access, facing delays or told to travel long distances – is putting pressure on other parts of the health service in England.”

Trade union Unison said call volumes to the NHS 111 line had increased significantly and a hospital in Bolton – a coronavirus hotspot – urged people to stay away from its A&E unit unless strictly necessary after nearly 100 turned up to request Covid-19 tests.

In other developments:

– The area of Rhondda Cynon Taf in south Wales will be placed under a local lockdown following an increase of coronavirus cases, the Welsh Government has announced.

– Professor Kevin Fenton, London director of Public Health England, told the Evening Standard that “local curfews so you’re not out drinking until the wee hours of the morning” could be used in future in the capital to curb the spread of the virus.

– Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used a Daily Telegraph article to criticise the Government’s “addiction to centralisation” in its response to coronavirus.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Mr Johnson defended the “rule of six” regime to restrict social gatherings – something allies of the Archbishop have said he has concerns about – and set out the need to avoid a “disastrous” second full lockdown.

“I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means that we have set out,” he said.

“So when I see people arguing against the rule of six or saying that the Government is coming in too hard on individual liberties and so on – I totally understand that and I sympathise with that, but we must, must defeat this disease.”