The number of care homes believed to have suffered outbreaks of coronavirus has risen to 5,889 – or almost four in 10 homes.
The disclosure comes days after it was revealed that 12,526 deaths of elderly people in care or hospitals between March 2 and May 1 – a quarter of the then total – were attributed at least partly to Covid-19 on the death certificate.
The new figures suggests that another increase in overall fatalities will be revealed in Tuesday’s update on by the Office for National Statistics.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been under heavy pressure to explain how the tragedy unfolding in residential care happened, given that they were supposed to have been shielded from the virus.
A Downing Street spokesman stressed they were not all confirmed cases but were “suspected outbreaks” reported to May 17.
In other key developments from the daily briefing of journalists by No 10:
A decision on whether schools will return next month is likely to be made this week, the official spokesman hinted
“You can see from the discussions that have been taking place that we have been seeking to resolve this as soon as we can,” said the PM’s spokesman.
He said the Government continues to “want to work with schools in order to get more children back into an education setting”.
“We are now past the peak of the virus and so it is right that we plan for the first phase of a controlled and careful return of some year groups from June 1 at the earliest.
“As we have always said, safety comes first, but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child’s education from not getting them back in the classroom.”
Suspicions grew that the tracking and tracing app for smartphones has been delayed after no date was given for it to be rolled out nationwide
Asked when the app that is being trialled on the Isle of Wight would go national, No 10 said: “It remains our aim to roll out the app for everyone to use in the coming weeks.” Asked if it may not be ready by June 1, when tracing is due to be in place, No 10 said: “We will set out more detail as we roll out the app nationwide.”
Downing Street said it was “certainly possible” to do track and trace work without the promised app being in place.
Asked whether Matt Hancock had been incorrect to suggest the whole system would be ready for mid-May, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I have only ever spoken about having the 18,000 contact tracers in place by this week.”
The spokesman said the Government had not “explicitly said” that the test, track and trace programme would need to be up and running in order to move onto step two of the road map out of lockdown, which would see the reopening of schools and some shops in England.
“What we have said in relation to step two is that we will only move forward if it is safe to do so,” the spokesman said.
“We will need to look at the five tests which the Government has in place and we will need to study carefully both the R rate and the rate of new infections.”
Some 91,206 tests for coronavirus were carried out up to 9am on Sunday, out of a capacity of 118,822.
The Government is pressing MPs to return to Westminster at the beginning of next month – but denies that it wants Tory MPs back to cheer Boris Johnson during clashes with Sir Keir Starmer
No 10 said the current the hybrid arrangements where most MPs are away “limit” Parliament’s ability to pass laws and hold the government to account.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is vital that Parliament can continue to scrutinise the Government and legislate to support the coronavirus response, but the existing temporary arrangements do limit some of these functions.
“That is why we have been working with the House authorities to try to move back to more ordinary business and to have more physical proceedings in the House.”
He added: “I think there are limits to what has been possible under the current model. Parliament does have a vital role to play both in scrutinising the Government but also in passing legislation and the temporary arrangements do limit some of these functions.”
Downing Street defended the process used to decide which symptoms of coronavirus should trigger a period of self-isolation after the loss of smell or taste was added to the list
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the UK’s chief medical officers were continually reviewing symptoms based on advice from experts on Nervtag – the new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group – about the latest information on the disease.
“We have been guided throughout by their advice and they are now confident that encouraging self-isolation with a loss of sense of smell or taste will pick up slightly more cases and help to further control the spread of the virus,” the spokesman said.
An extra 2 per cent of cases may be picked up as a result of the change, experts believe.
Plans to impose a 14-day quarantine on international travellers arriving in the UK will be reviewed every three weeks, Downing Street has said
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “The PM has said that those arriving in the UK from overseas will be required to self-isolate in order to prevent infections from abroad and a second wave of cases.
“The work on this is continuing and we will set out more details in due course.”
Number 10 insisted that there had never been an exemption for France, but said there would be an exemption for Ireland as part of the common travel area.
Asked how long the quarantine regulation would last, the spokesman said: “Any changes brought in will be subject to a rolling review every three weeks to ensure they are in line with the latest scientific advice and that they remain effective and necessary.”
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said lockdown measures could be eased from the end of the month.
The First Minister said if progress against the virus continues, people might be able to meet up with someone from another household, visit garden centres and participate in some sports.
Speaking at the latest Scottish Government coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said 2,105 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up two from 2,103 on Sunday.
She issued a note of caution over the death figures, saying although these can be registered at the weekend, registrations tend to be lower. The First Minister said there are 1,427 patients in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, up 119 from 1,308 on Sunday. Of these, 63 are in intensive care, a rise of four.
Ms Sturgeon said a “route map” will be published on Thursday for the path out of lockdown in Scotland. She said the reproduction rate of the virus will be outlined, along with taking into account the findings of the weekly National Records of Scotland (NRS) report.