UK coronavirus death toll tops 20,000

More than 20,000 people have now died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK.

The grim milestone came as the coronavirus lockdown continued into its fifth weekend and the Government faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the outbreak.

The UK is the fifth country to pass 20,000 Covid-19 deaths, behind the US, Italy, Spain and France.

Last month, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs the hope was to keep the death toll to under 20,000 – an ambition that was later echoed by NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis, who said the UK would have "done very well in this epidemic" if deaths remained below that figure.

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Lockdown Britain enjoys warm weekend
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Lockdown Britain enjoys warm weekend
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: People enjoying the sunshine hold up a sign that reads "Boris, Get Well, we need you, we like you, I love you" while posing with a skeleton which is wearing protective gloves and mask on their balcony flying a Union Jack flag during the Coronavirus lockdown on April 26, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. Boris Johnson, is due to return to work in Westminster tomorrow after being out of action for more than three weeks because of contracting the coronavirus. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
Runners on the Mall in central London, at the finish of the London Marathon course, which was postponed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
A lady in a mask walks on the beach in Margate, Kent, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: The London Eye is seen from the Embankment as runners go past on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part. It has postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Runners run down The Mall , where the finish of the London Marathon was due to take place, on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part. It has postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Joggers run across Tower Bridge on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part, but was postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Joggers run through Canary Wharf on April 26, 2020 in London, England. The 40th London Marathon was due to take place today, with thousands of runners due to take part. It has postponed until October 04 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
People cycle along the seafront at Goring-by-Sea on the south coast of England, on April 26, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's health ministry on Saturday said 813 more people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in hospital, taking the death toll to 20,319. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
A couple view the empty beach in Broadstairs, Kent, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Following the closure of several Pizza Hut restaurants due to Covid-19, the Croydon Solidarity Network protest outside in Lewisham over the plight of around forty Pizza Hut workers in South London who had not been paid for five weeks without being furloughed on April 25, 2020 in London, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: People are encouraged to keep 2 metres apart on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Police officers try to persuade a sunbather to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: A man sunbathes in the boot of his car as people continue to stay at home in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Police officers try to persuade a sunbather to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Traders wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including gloves and a visor as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, serve customers at their fruit and vegetable stall at Leicester Market in Leicester, central England, on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's health ministry on Saturday said 813 more people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in hospital, taking the death toll to 20,319. The figure is an increase on the 684 reported the previous day and comes after the government claimed the virus had hit its peak. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman in sunglasses and rollerblades keeps socially distanced and enjoys the sunshine in Peel Park, Salford, Greater Manchester on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Police officers tell members of the public that they are not allowed to sit and enjoy the sunshine on the grass, but are allowed to walk to take exercise, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers patrol the beach in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: A police officer encourages people to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Police officers tell members of the public that they are not allowed to sit and enjoy the sunshine on the grass, but are allowed to walk to take exercise, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Police officers encourage people to leave the beach on April 25, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
People practicing social distancing at Tynemouth beach as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Three men with identical bleach blonde hair sunbathe in the sunshine in Peel Park, Salford, Greater Manchester on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man drinks lager from a can under his protective face mask as he enjoys the sunshine in Peel Park, Salford, Greater Manchester on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A socially distanced topless man falls asleep in the hot sun in Sackville Gardens in Manchester city centre on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Girls dressed for the beach cram onto a tiny balcony to catch some rays in Manchester city centre on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A police car patrols the promenade in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man does a press-up as he exercises near a woman laying on the grass near her bike in Victoria Park, east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman goes for a walk in a full face visor in Manchester city centre on Saturday 25th April 2020. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) of a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, runs on the grass in Victoria Park, east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
People walk in the sunshine in Victoria Park, east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: A Beach warden speaks to a family group after they gather on the beach with buckets and spades on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: A man wears a face mask as he walks across Deansgate in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen at Bournemouth Beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: People enjoy the warm weather in Castlefield in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: A man carries a Jack Russell dog on his shoulder as he walks along Deansgate in central Manchester on April 25, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
People walk along the cliff top, at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, southern England, on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: General views of Bournemouth Beach signage encouraging people to stay home as members of the public walk on the sand on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Tape covers outdoor gym equipment to prevent people using it, in Abbey Park in Leicester, central England, on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Members of the public are seen on the beach on April 25, 2020 in Bournemouth, England. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Social distancing is practised on a park bench as a man (R) reads a book as a couple exchange a kiss, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Boris Johnson's government on Saturday was embroiled in a political row after it emerged his chief advisor attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic in Britain. Downing Street was forced to deny that Dominic Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Sir Patrick appeared before the Commons Health Select Committee on March 17, when the UK death toll stood at 71.

Asked whether it was hoped that deaths could potentially get below 20,000, he said: "That is the hope, that we can get it down to that. To put that into perspective, every year in seasonal flu the number of deaths is thought to be 8,000.

"If we can get numbers down to 20,000 and below, that's a good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get to with this outbreak."

On Saturday, the Department of Health said a total of 20,319 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK as of 5pm on Friday – up by 813 from the day before.

That figure does not include deaths in the wider community, such as in care homes, which means the true toll will be higher by several thousand at least.

But Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the true figure could already be double that amount.

"The World Health Organisation said yesterday that about half of all deaths in Europe are occurring in residence of elderly care homes," he said.

"We know for a fact the figures reported every day are an underestimate, possibly a significant underestimate of the total number of deaths."

The UK is well on track to hit 30,000 deaths in hospital, perhaps even 40,000 before the pandemic is brought under control, he said.

"We are undoubtedly going to have one of the highest death rates in Europe," Dr Hunter added.

The death toll came after Downing Street angrily dismissed claims its scientific advice could be politicised following the disclosure that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings had been attending meetings of a key scientific group.

Opposition parties, however, said political advisers had no business attending the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and called for its deliberations to be opened to wider scrutiny.

The controversy over Sage – which will advise ministers on the lifting of restrictions – came after The Guardian reported that Mr Cummings and Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, had been present at Sage meetings.

Downing Street denied they were members of the group and said they were simply seeking to better understand the science involved and how it could inform Government decision-making.

Dominic Cummings

Meanwhile, coronavirus tests for key workers through the Government's new booking website ran out in England for a second day in a row.

More than 10 million key workers and their households are now eligible for Covid-19 tests as officials race to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday.

However, home testing kits were listed as "unavailable" on the Government's booking website just 15 minutes after it reopened on Saturday morning, according to the BBC.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said more will be made available from Sunday morning at 8am.

Amid more warm weather on Saturday, queues built up outside some DIY stores as shoppers flocked to stock up on hardware and gardening goods. But beaches and major roads remained largely quiet.

Long queues outside a B&Q store in Bristol on Saturday

In other developments:

– Former chancellor Philip Hammond called on ministers to set out plans to begin easing the coronavirus lockdown and re-start the economy.

– It emerged that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has been in talks with the governing bodies of a number of major sports, with football expected to be the first to get the green light to resume matches behind closed doors.

– The NHS is launching a new campaign urging people to seek urgent care if they suffer a medical emergency after visits to A&E dropped by almost 50%.

– The Government has given the go-ahead for a clinical trial to establish if plasma from the blood of recovered coronavirus patients could help treat others fighting the illness.

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