Jeremy Hilton, the group leader on Gloucester City Council, said a care home under his supervision had been hit by a major outbreak after accepting around six hospital patients suffering from Covid-19.

“A person is dying at that home every day now,” he told The Telegraph. “How can it be safe to send sick people into a home where elderly people are supposed to be cocooned away from the rest of us? It’s madness.

“They took around half a dozen hospital patients, and look where they are now. The Government needs to change course before more people die.”

Karen Wespieser, an education specialist, told The Telegraph that her grandfather Arthur Whitby, a 93-year-old World War Two veteran, had been discharged from hospital into a care home in Borehamwood without staff being made aware of his suspected virus status.

“The care home told us he was slipping away, and he died the day before Good Friday,” she said. “Then yesterday we saw the death certificate, and it said Covid-19. We were shocked. 

“We called the care home, and they said they had no idea. So that means my grandfather was sent back from the hospital to the care home, probably with coronavirus, and he may have given it to someone else.”

Challenged at the Downing Street press conference, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said: “It is sensible for older, and indeed all patients, to keep hospital stays as short as is medically, or from nursing point of view, sensible.”

Meanwhile, new figures showed that a quarter of coronavirus deaths in Scotland have occurred in care homes. National Records of Scotland (NRS) statistics found that 237 (24.6 per cent) of the 962 fatalities recorded from the start of the outbreak until Sunday this week had happened in care homes.

If applied to the rest of the UK, the figures would suggest that around 4,000 care home residents have so far died from the virus.

The death toll starkly contrasts with data from the Office for National Statistics, published on Tuesday, which said 217 people died in care homes in England and Wales up to April 3.

Care homes said the ONS data was “hugely underreported” amid suggestions that GPs have been reluctant to put coronavirus as a cause of death.

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