LONDON — The U.K. is “beginning to turn the tide” on coronavirus but is also at the “moment of maximum risk,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday, as he returned to work in Downing Street.
In his first public comments since the day he was discharged from hospital after suffering a severe case of COVID-19 that nearly cost him his life, Johnson cautioned that despite positive signs there could be no rush to reopen the economy from lockdown.
The prime minister will chair Monday’s daily “C-19” morning meeting of senior ministers, with aides insisting he has recovered and will resume all prime ministerial duties. The government, which has been led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Johnson’s absence, is under pressure to set out a way out of lockdown.
Responding to calls for an easing of restrictions, the prime minister said that moving too quickly would risk “a second major outbreak, huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS” and require the government to “slam the brakes” on the economy a second time.
Describing coronavirus “from personal experience” as “an unexpected and invisible mugger,” he said that the U.K was now at the moment of “when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor,” with the number of hospital admissions down and “real signs that we are passing through the peak.”
Johnson said the government would adjust the rules only “when we’re sure that this first phase is over,” with clear signs that the death and infection rate is falling, and “the challenges” of stepping up testing capacity and getting PPE [personal protective equipment] to health staff have been met.
“That will be the time to move on to the second phase in which we continue to suppress the disease and really keep the reproduction rate, the R rate, down but begin gradually to refine to economic and social restrictions and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast U.K. economy,” he said. “We simply cannot spell out now how fast, or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.”
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