Dominic Raab bats away international comparisons after Britain posts highest coronavirus death toll in Europe
Dominic Raab was speaking at the daily Number 10 press conference.
Dominic Raab has cautioned against comparing Britain to Italy as the UK reported the highest official coronavirus death toll in Europe.
The Foreign Secretary said a “real verdict” on global efforts to combat the virus could not be delivered “until the pandemic is over”, as new figures from the Office for National Statistics painted a grim picture.
The ONS stats show that there were 29,648 deaths registered in England and Wales with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificates by 2 May.
That now exceeds Italy’s death toll of 29,029, although ministers and officials have said figures showing excess deaths compared to the average for this time of year are a more reliable indicator of how different countries are faring.
Pressed on the figures at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Raab said: “You’re asking me to speculate there.
“All I’d just say is, first of all, 29,427 lives lost is a massive tragedy, something in this country, on this scale, in this way that we’ve never seen before.
“And, as I said before, my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one.”
"29,427 lives lost is a massive tragedy" - Dominic Raab
And he added: “In terms of the comparison that you’re suggesting, as the scientists have all said... I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict of how countries have done until the pandemic is over. And particularly until we’ve got comprehensive international data on all causes of mortality.”
Mr Raab said the UK’s methods for counting deaths may be partly responsible for the higher toll than in some European countries.
He told reporters: “There are different ways of counting deaths as we know, we’ve had that debate in this country. We now publish data that includes all deaths in all settings and not all countries do that, so I’m not sure the international comparison works unless you reliable know all countries are measuring in the same way.
“And it also depends on how good countries are in gathering their statistics, and our own Office of National Statistics is widely acknowledged to be a world leader.”
That followed a similar warning from England’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, who told MPs on Tuesday it remained “really difficult to do direct comparisons” between countries around the world.
“It is extremely difficult to compare between countries at the moment. We need to not just look at the numbers clearly, but at the rates,” she said.
But Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “Today’s confirmation we have the highest official death rate in Europe is a tragic reminder of the severity of this horrific disease. The public will rightly ask why our death rate is so high.”
SOUTH KOREA MODEL
Elsewhere at the daily press conference, deputy chief scientific adviser Angela McLean said Britain should be looking to the example of South Korea as it tries to restart efforts to track and trace people with the coronavirus.
The East Asian country, which moved quickly to begin a wide-ranging testing programme, reported just three new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, its lowest level since mid-April.
Professor McClean said: “We’re all of us working really hard to figure out if we can do contact tracing in a way that will really start to find all of the infections out there in the community.
“Find people who have symptoms, get them tested, find good, quick, reliable ways to find the people they’ve been in contact with and ask them to go into quarantine.
“That is the strategy that has worked in South Korea and South Korea is really place in the world that we can look to and say this worked.
“It is a large country like we are, they did have quite a big outbreak, actually, that they brought under control with contact tracing. So I think they are a fine example to us and we should try to emulate what they’ve achieved.”
The comments come after the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance - acknowledged that Britain’s testing rates should have been higher in the early stages of the outbreak.
He told MPs on the Health Committee: “I think if we'd managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial.
"And, you know, for all sorts of reasons that didn't happen.
"I think it's clear you need lots of testing for this, but to echo what Jenny Harries has said, it's completely wrong to think of testing as the answer.
"It's just part of the system that you need to get right. The entire system needs to work properly."
Dr Harries told the committee: "If we had unlimited capacity, and the ongoing support beyond that, then perhaps we would choose a slightly different approach."