Boris Johnson tells UK to live ‘fearlessly but with common sense’

Under-fire prime minister warns UK it faces tough winter of dealing with coronavirus

British prime minister Boris Johnson says that the current soaring number of Covid-19 cases in the UK was about where government forecasts had predicted they would be. Video: Reuters

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Boris Johnson has urged Britons to live “fearlessly but with common sense”, as he warned that the UK faced a very tough winter of dealing with coronavirus.

Speaking as the Conservative Party holds its annual conference online, the British prime minister said he was taking a balanced approach to the pandemic while keeping as much of the economy open as possible. But he warned that the virus would disrupt normal life for the rest of the year.

“I know people are furious with me and they’re furious with the government but . . . it’s going to continue to be bumpy through to Christmas. It may even be bumpy beyond but this is the only way to do it,” he told the BBC.

Mr Johnson, who spent several days in intensive care in April after contracting the virus, said his political philosophy did not lend itself to further restrictions, but his priority was healthcare.

“I’m a freedom-loving Tory. I don’t want to have to impose measures like this . . . this is the last thing we want to do. But I also have to save life. And that’s our priority,” he said.

Restrictions

“That’s the priority of the British people and I think they will want to see their government continue to work, continuing to fight the virus and that’s what we’re doing.”

With 17 million people in Britain now facing restrictions on households socialising, Mr Johnson said he appreciated the fatigue that parts of the country were feeling about the restrictions.

Mr Johnson’s government attributed a sharp increase in case numbers on Saturday to a technical issue that has now been resolved, but warned that caseload numbers over the next couple of days would probably be higher than normal because the figures would “include some additional cases from the period between September 24th and October 1st”.

On Friday, data from the British government’s Office for Science and Sage revealed that the R number in the UK was between 1.3 and 1.6, up from between 1.2 and 1.5 the previous week. This means that every 10 people infected with the virus are likely to infect about 13 to 16 people.

Mr Johnson admitted that the UK’s much-criticised testing and contact tracing system was “not perfect” but dismissed the notion that the government had overpromised and underdelivered in its response to the pandemic.

‘Serial incompetence’

Mr Johnson’s call for people to use their common sense follows concerns from Conservative MPs, ministers and activists that he is not focused enough on the needs of the economy.

ConservativeHome, an influential website, reported on Sunday that Mr Johnson’s ratings among the party’s grassroots members had collapsed. According to its latest survey, his ratings had sunk to minus 10 points compared with an overwhelmingly positive view of chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The prime minister dismissed the idea he was still suffering fatigue as a result of the virus as “drivel” and “balderdash”, while urging US president Donald Trump, who has tested positive for the virus, to follow the advice of his doctors.

Labour’s shadow health minister Alex Norris accused Mr Johnson of “serial incompetence” and said he “waffled and ducked every question”.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020