Medical staff at the Louisa Jordan hospital stand during a UK wide minutes silence to commemorate the key workers who have died with coronavirus on April 28, 2020 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Britain’s official coronavirus death toll has topped 40,000, after the government on Friday reported a further 357 fatalities in the last 24 hours.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said reaching the grim milestone was “a time of sorrow for us all”.

“We’ve got to remember that each one of these is an impact on a family that will never be the same again and my heart goes out to them all,” he said.

“And it makes me redouble my determination to deal with this virus.”

His ministry said 40,261 people who tested positive for COVID-19 had died as of 0800 GMT on Friday.

Britain was already second only to the United States in terms of numbers of deaths, and broader statistics indicate the toll is much higher when suspected cases are taken into account.

The Office for National Statistics, which tallies all deaths in which COVID-19 was suspected or mentioned on death certificates, put the toll at 48,106 up to May 22.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is going ahead with plans to ease lockdown restrictions imposed on March 23, after indications the virus was past its peak.

Some schools reopened this week to the youngest children in England, while non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen their doors from Monday.

A separate study published on Friday said about 53,000 people in England had coronavirus in the last two weeks of May.

But only 29 percent of those who tested positive had symptoms, the ONS said.

It surveyed almost 20,000 people in private homes and found that 21 people had the disease, which equates to some 0.1 percent of England’s 56 million people.

As Britain gradually reopens, attention has focused on the so-called R rate — the average number of secondary infections produced by one infected person.

Scientists and ministers say the easing of lockdown measures depends on keeping the rate below one.

Modelling data published on Friday by one group that helps inform government policy suggested it was above one in two English regions.

“We believe it is probable that R is below 1 in all regions of England with the exception of the North West and the South West,” said the study by Public Health England and Cambridge University.

However, the government said that information from a range of sources put the rate at between 0.7 and 0.9 across Britain.

Hancock noted that the government’s recently launched “track and test” scheme would focus on identifying and isolating localised outbreaks of coronavirus.

Securing public support for easing lockdown measures and confidence about risks are seen as key to returning to a semblance of normality.

But the ONS found only four in 10 adults felt safe or very safe when outside of their home.

Almost two in three parents in England said they were not confident about sending their children back to school.

The study showed a decrease of positive tests in recent weeks but higher rates of infection for frontline health staff and those unable to work from home.

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