The United Kingdom's official death toll from the novel coronavirus crossed 40,000 on Friday, after 357 more fatalities over the previous day took the total number of deaths from COVID-19 across hospitals and other settings to 40,261.
Addressing the daily Downing Street briefing, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed the latest set of coronavirus data, which makes the UK the hardest-hit country in Europe.
Italy, previously Europe's worst-hit, has recorded 33,600 COVID-19 deaths.
The minister sought to highlight that the rate of hospitalisations has fallen and the R value, or the reproduction rate of the deadly virus, across the UK appears to be below the required mark of one across the board.
“We have made progress in our fight against the virus but there is so much more to do,” said Hancock.
He also urged people to reconsider a planned Black Lives Matter protest for the weekend, in solidarity with protests taking place in the US following the killing of George Floyd -- the black man who died at the hands of police brutality in Minneapolis.
“I know people are deeply appalled and upset, but we still face a real threat from coronavirus so it is vital to protect yourselves and your families this weekend. For the safety of your loved ones, do not attend large gatherings, including demonstrations, of more than six people this weekend,” Hancock said.
The latest coronavirus data shows that the level of infection and the deaths in most European countries are now coming down, but the daily confirmed cases in the UK are still quite high.
The British government has said that its “Test, Track and Trace” programme will be the key to the next stage as the lockdown is gradually eased.
Scientists have warned that the system needs to be fully operational before restrictions are eased further and caution that the rate of infection is still too high for contact tracing to be effective.