Britain records new COVID-19 death record as cases surge across Europe

Britain reported a record number of deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 1,820 people dying within 28 days of positive coronavirus test, surpassing the previous peak set a day earlier, government data showed.

The number was up from the 1610 deaths reported on Tuesday. There were 38,905 new cases recorded on Wednesday, up from the 33,355 reported a day earlier.

UK figures show 4,609,740 people have received their first dose of a vaccine. 

Overseas COVID-19 is surging, putting strain on healthcare systems globally.

Portugal's number of daily coronavirus cases rose from 10,455 to 14,647 on Wednesday, a 40 percent jump as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in infections and deaths.

The country of 10 million people, where authorities implemented a 15-day lockdown last week to fight the spread of the virus, also hit a record of 219 new deaths on Wednesday from 218 the day before, health authority DGS said.

Around 45 percent of new cases, which brought the total of infections to 581,605, were concentrated in the Lisbon region, where hospitals are quickly running out of beds for coronavirus patients.

Currently 681 coronavirus patients are in intensive care units (ICUs), above the 672 maximum allocation of ICU beds out of a total of just over 1,000, health authorities said.

"The normal capacity of the health system was already exceeded long ago," said João Gouveia, head of the association representing Portuguese intensive care workers. "It is still not as catastrophic as it was in Italy and Spain but we are close to it."

Portugal has already nearly doubled the number of ICU beds since the start of the pandemic, when it had just 528 critical care beds and Europe's lowest ratio per 100,000 inhabitants.

"Right now we still have a health system that can expand," Gouveia said, giving makeshift hospitals as examples. "But, in the case of ICUs, it is very limited due to a lack in human resources."

As part of the new lockdown imposed on Friday, all non-essential services shut and people were urged to stay home. But the government decided to keep schools open despite heavy criticism from all sides.

Some municipalities, parents' associations and student groups have urged the government to close schools immediately over fears of outbreaks. Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 have been rolled out on Wednesday in schools located in the worst-affected municipalities.

The Dutch government on Wednesday proposed the first nationwide curfew since World War Two and a ban on flights from South Africa and Britain in its toughest moves yet to limit the spread of new coronavirus mutations in the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the curfew must be approved by parliament, which is set to debate measures against the coronavirus on Thursday.

The flight ban, which Rutte said also will apply to all South American countries, will begin on Saturday. The curfew was expected to take effect this weekend, he said.

"This is a very tough measure, but we are at a crossroads," Rutte said in a televised news conference. "The British variant doesn't leave us with an alternative."

The curfew would allow only people with pressing needs to leave their homes between 8:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. local time, Rutte said.

Exceptions include medical emergencies, people who need to be outdoors to carry out essential jobs and walking of pets on a leash. Violators can be fined 95 euros ($115).

"It is tough and it feels as if it is only getting tougher. But that is precisely why it is important that we not only look at the restrictions of today, but also how if we take sensible steps now, we will be able ease restrictions sooner."

Schools and non-essential shops have already been closed since mid-December, following the shutdown of bars and restaurants two months earlier.

This lockdown will remain in place until at least February 9, Rutte said last week.

Infections in the Netherlands have decreased steadily in the past three weeks, but health authorities say the new variants will lead to a new surge by next month if social distancing measures are not tightened.

The government currently has a caretaker status, as Rutte last Friday handed his resignation to King Willem-Alexander following a damning report on his cabinet's handling of childcare subsidies.

Rutte has said he will remain to take decisions on COVID-19 policies until a new government is formed after the March 17 elections, seeking broad support for measures from both coalition and opposition parties.