The British Prime Minister, speaking outside 10 Downing Street in London on Monday, said there were real signs that the country was close to winning the first phase of the battle against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 20,000 people in the UK.
But he warned that the UK was at “the moment of maximum risk” and suggested restrictions would need to remain in place for the time being in to avoid a second peak of infection. The UK’s lockdown measures are due to be reviewed again by May 7.
Johnson compared the virus to a “physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger”, which the UK was beginning to “wrestle… to the floor.”
The British government has faced criticism for its handling to the disease, particularly whether it took it seriously enough in the early stages of transmission in the UK; the availability of protective clothing for health workers; and the country’s low rate of testing. Yet Johnson struck a characteristically upbeat tone during his remarks, saying that the UK’s lockdown measures had succeeded in preventing the National Health Service from being overwhelmed.
But he said it was too soon to ease the restrictions. “I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak,” he said.
Decisions on when and how to lift the lockdown would be taken with “the maximum possible transparency,” he promised, addressing criticism that the UK government has so far refused to share its thinking on how restrictions might eventually be lifted.
Johnson also thanked First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for deputizing for him during his illness. He said: “I am sorry I have been away from my desk for much longer than I would have liked.”
Johnson spent several nights in intensive care earlier this month after his condition with coronavirus symptoms worsened.
He will have little time to rest. His government has set an ambitious target to test 100,000 people a day by April 30. The Department of Health and Social Care said 29,058 tests were carried out on Saturday, although the government says the capacity is much higher.
The British Prime Minister will also need to decide when to ease social distancing restrictions, how to exit the lockdown and how to prepare for future spikes of the virus. “I know it is tough and I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS,” he said.