A man prepares a coffin wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) at Fowles Funeral Services in Winsford as the spread of the COVID-19 continues, Winsford, Britain, April 22, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
The United Kingdom government faced a surge of fresh criticism on Tuesday after a television documentary investigation revealed it had failed to stockpile crucial items of personal protective equipment, or PPE, in case of a pandemic.
The BBC Panorama program also claimed the government downgraded its guidance on the severity of COVID-19 as late as March 13, so it could provide a lower level of PPE to health workers.
In Tuesday's news briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Panorama program may not have been a "fair and objective" assessment. He added: "We do have constant focus on the realities of getting PPE to the frontlines. That system is getting stronger, but it is a mammoth effort."
He said the government is "on track" to meets its target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month, with capacity now at 73,000 per day. The UK hospital death toll is now 21,678, a rise of 586 on the previous day.
It comes as some countries continue with plans to ease out of lockdowns. Italy has set out a detailed plan for easing restrictions, which have been among the strictest in Europe. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the measures would be relaxed from May 4.
The British government is reported to be closely watching the Czech Republic's back-to-business strategy, according to The Guardian. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is understood to be studying the nation's approach to lifting the tight restrictions it imposed earlier than most countries further west, which have helped it limit cases to 7,400, with just 221 deaths.
The death rate in Sweden has now risen significantly higher than many other countries in Europe, reaching more than 21 per 100,000 people, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Sweden's figures contrast greatly with other Nordic countries that share similar cultural, geographical and sociological attributes, CNN reported.
Denmark has recorded more than seven deaths per 100,000 people, and both Norway and Finland less than four. Sweden has registered 18,640 novel coronavirus cases and 2,194 deaths among its population of 10.3 million people.
The country's foreign minister, Ann Linde, has said there has been "a lot of misunderstanding" about Sweden's light-touch approach to tackling the crisis, that effectively asked, rather than ordered, people to follow guidelines.
Millions of jobs across Europe's biggest economies could be in danger despite government furlough schemes, according to the Financial Times. The rising number of workers placed on short-term leave has caused major disruption with the policy forecast to cost the region's five largest economies more than 100 billion euros ($108 billion) in total.
The FT reported concerns in the UK, Spain, France, and Italy that the programs will not last long enough to avoid mass job losses, and that workers in Germany fear the money offered will not be enough to last more than two months.