British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed sorrow over the “terrible toll” of more than 150,000 deaths from the coronavirus, making the United Kingdom one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic in Europe.
Johnson lamented the COVID-related fatalities in a tweet on a black background on Saturday, saying, “Coronavirus has taken a terrible toll on our country and today the number of deaths recorded has reached 150,000.”
The British premier added that “each and every one of those” who died “is a profound loss to the families, friends and communities affected and my thoughts and condolences are with them.”
The British government reported earlier in the day that deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test had reached 150,057 since the start of the pandemic.
Across England, the North West has reported the most fatalities at 21,089, followed by the South East which has 19,296. London has reported 17,731 fatalities.
The government has firmly called on the public to get booster shots, which have already been administered to around 61 percent of the population aged over 12. It is also seeking to persuade the unvaccinated to receive jabs as part of efforts to rein in the surging pandemic.
“Our way out of this pandemic is for everyone to get their booster or their first or second dose if they haven’t yet,” Johnson said in his tweet.
UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also described the death toll as a "dark milestone" for the country, saying, "Our thoughts are with all those who have lost someone and we thank everyone for supporting the vaccination effort.”
The number of daily reported cases in the UK surged to a record of more than 200,000 last week during the New Year’s festivities, prompting the introduction of new rules, including the compulsory wearing of face masks by schoolchildren during lessons and restrictions on social gatherings in England.
Rising staff absences at British hospitals have already prompted the military to provide backup to embattled doctors and nurses.
More than 39,000 staff members at hospitals in England were off work for reasons related to COVID-19 on January 2, up 59 percent from the previous week, according to NHS England.
Vaccine-related protests sweep across Europe
More than 100,000 people protested across France on Saturday over what they say are government plans to further restrict the rights of the unvaccinated.
The protesters, many of them unmasked, staged a rally to express their opposition to a planned law that would require individuals to prove they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus before they can eat out, travel on intercity trains, or attend cultural events.
French Interior Ministry officials said 105,200 people participated in Saturday's protests across France, 18,000 of them in the capital Paris, where police reported 10 arrests and three officers slightly injured.
The march came days after French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to "piss off" the unvaccinated until they accept shots. France recorded more than 300,000 COVID-19 infections in a single day on Friday.
Elsewhere in Europe, protesters rallied in several cities across Germany on Saturday, with the largest event held in Hamburg, where some 16,000 people attended, according to police.
The protests were held under the banner “Enough! Hands off our children," as Germany, which is considering imposing a general vaccine mandate, began offering COVID-19 jabs to children between the ages of five and 11 last month.
Demonstrations in Berlin took the form of a car-and-bike convoy with more than 100 vehicles, 70 bikes, and approximately 200 people overall.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the arguments made by vaccination opponents and coronavirus deniers had lost all measure and focus.
“A small group is willing to wipe all scientific knowledge off the table and voluntarily enter a bubble of bogus truths,” Lauterbach said in comments to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
Protests also took place in Italy, with hundreds of people in the city of Turin protesting against rules that make vaccines mandatory for anyone older than 50.
Tougher laws are also coming into force for other Italians from Monday as those who are unvaccinated can no longer use public transport or visit restaurants.