Many older people are being “airbrushed” out of coronavirus figures in the UK, charities have warned.
The official death toll has been criticised for only covering people who die in hospital – but not those in care homes or in their own houses.
It comes after the government confirmed there had been virus outbreaks at more than 2,000 care homes in England.
Meanwhile, scientific advisers for the government will meet later to review the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures.
The evaluation will be passed to the government – but ministers have said it was unlikely restrictions would change.
On Monday, the UK’s chief medical adviser said he would like “much more extensive testing” in care homes due to the “large numbers of vulnerable people” there.
Prof Chris Whitty told the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing on that 92 homes in the UK reported outbreaks in one day.
The Department of Health and Social Care later confirmed 2,099 care homes in England have so far had cases of the virus.
The figures prompted the charity Age UK to claim coronavirus is “running wild” in care homes for elderly people.
“The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter,” Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said.
The Office for National Statistics is due to release new figures on the number of deaths involving coronavirus at 09:30 BST, which include every community death linked to Covid-19 in England and Wales.
Ms Abrahams said the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing is leading to the spread of coronavirus across the care home sector.
“We were underprepared for this, we are playing catch-up on getting enough PPE and testing, I’m wondering if the needs of care homes were taken seriously early on,” she said.
She joined industry leaders from Marie Curie, Care England, Independent Age and the Alzheimer’s Society in writing a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding a care package to support social care through the pandemic.
They have also called for a daily update on deaths in the care system.
Alzheimer’s Society’s chief operating officer, Kathryn Smith, told BBC Radio 5 Live that the charities felt care homes had become “the forgotten front line” in the effort to tackle the virus.
She added that PPE was “just not coming through fast enough and in sufficient quantities for the care homes and all the care staff that need it”.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of charity Marie Curie, previously explained that the lack of PPE and testing “means workers at care homes are not well equipped to support a number of people dying in quick succession”.
Care England has estimated there have been nearly 1,000 deaths from coronavirus in care homes, leaving social care as “the neglected front line”, according to the letter.
The Labour Party has called on the government to publish daily figures of deaths in care homes to highlight the “true scale” of the spread of the virus, which causes the Covid-19 disease.
The issue has regularly been raised by journalists at the daily Downing Street briefing and the government response has been that the number announced each day is based on hospital figures as this can be quickly gathered and analysed – whereas deaths in the wider community take much longer to be collated after death certificates are issued by doctors.
The government says it is following the international standard by quoting the hospital figures each day – and that the fuller ONS figures can lag many days behind.
The latest care homes to confirm residents have died with symptoms of the virus include a home in Drumchapel, Glasgow, a specialist dementia home in Selston, Nottinghamshire, and a home in County Durham where 13 residents have died.
The Department of Health’s official death number of deaths of people in hospital with coronavirus rose to 11,329 on Monday – up by 717 in a day.
The BBC’s science editor David Shukman said the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting later in the day will evaluate various ways coronavirus is unfolding in the UK.
It will look at hospital admissions, the approach to testing, data on intensive care capacity and deaths, the effectiveness of lockdown tactics, and whether or not the public should be advised to wear face masks outdoors.
So far the UK has advised against the use of face masks by the general public. There are concerns wearing one can give people a false sense of security, leading to them becoming lax with other preventative measures such as hand washing.
But the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the guidance was subject to an ongoing review.
The World Health Organization said it remains the case that medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, not the general public.
Meanwhile, the government has defended itself after reports it missed three chances to bulk-buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers treating virus patients.
Health workers in 25 EU countries are set to receive deliveries of kit worth £1.3bn in the coming days, according to the Guardian.
The paper reports the UK missed three opportunities to join the scheme and has not taken part in talks on future purchases.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it would “consider participating in future EU joint procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time”.
“We will continue to work with European countries and others in order to make sure that we can increase the capacity within the NHS,” they said.
In other developments:
- Gym and leisure centre bosses say urgent action is needed to safeguard exercise venues, as unscrupulous landlords use a loophole to threaten eviction over non-payment of rent during the coronavirus crisis
- Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells has said he is donating a fifth of his wages over the next three months to launch a fund for food banks and other community causes during the pandemic
- Retail giant Next will begin selling online again on Tuesday after pausing operations for two weeks while measures were introduced to keep warehouse staff safe; measures include that workers will wear tabards displaying the message “stay 2m apart”
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