Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday defended what he called Britain's "astonishing" efforts to tackle coronavirus, rejecting accusations that with Europe's worst death count, his government has nothing to be proud of.
More than 40,000 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in Britain's outbreak so far, although the figure rises to more than 50,000 when suspected cases are included.
On either measure, the count is Europe's worst and the second highest in the world behind the United States.
"Last week, the prime minister said he was proud of the government's record," Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour party, said in the House of Commons.
"But there's no pride in those figures, is there?"
Johnson said that "we mourn every one and we grieve for them and for their relatives and their friends" -- adding however that it was too soon to make international comparisons.
Some experts have cautioned against global comparisons, as each country has different reporting methods and lag times -- and the pandemic is far from over.
In a testy exchange with Starmer, Johnson said: "As for what this country did to fight the epidemic, I must say I strongly disagree with the way he characterises it."
He cited the "astonishing achievement" by the state-run National Health Service in building a string of emergency hospitals -- many of which were barely used.
"It was an astonishing thing this country came together to drive down, to follow the social distancing rules... to get the epidemic under control in the way we have," he said.
Johnson said he was now following his plan to gradually ease a nationwide lockdown, saying: "We have a plan, we're following it and we're going to stick to it."
The government has been accused of introducing stay-at-home orders too late -- and now of relaxing them too soon.
Schools began taking the youngest pupils back earlier this month, and all shops and outdoor attractions such as zoos will be allowed to open in England next week.
However, the government on Tuesday abandoned its aim of getting all the youngest children back to school before the summer holidays in July, with most unable to do so safely.
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