Coronavirus: Johnson eyes reopening UK economy and says peak is passed

PM says he will set out plan next week and that it’s too early to compare European death tolls

Boris Johnson has claimed the UK is "past the peak" in his first press conference since recovering from Covid-19.

 

Boris Johnson has promised to set out a comprehensive plan next week for restarting the British economy, reopening schools and getting people back to work safely. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference for the first time since falling ill with coronavirus, the prime minister said Britain has passed the peak of infections.

“We are past the peak and we are on the downward slope. And we have so many reasons to be hopeful for the long term,” he said.   

A total of 26,771 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Britain, an increase of 674 since Wednesday. Britain is on course to suffer more deaths from the virus than any other European country but Mr Johnson said it was too early to make such comparisons, asserting that his government had taken the right steps at the right time.

“I’m not going to minimise the logistical problems we have faced in getting the right protective gear to the right people at the right time, both in the NHS and in care homes or the frustrations that we have experienced in expanding the numbers of tests. But what I can tell you is that everyone responsible for tackling these problems whether in government or the NHS, or Public Health England, local authorities. We are throwing everything at it, heart and soul, night and day,” he said.

The prime minister, who praised NHS staff who cared for him during his illness and who assisted at the birth of his son on Wednesday, said the country’s focus must be on keeping the reproduction rate of the virus below one. But he said his government was making preparations for a return to economic activity in the coming weeks.

“I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week. To explain how we can get our economy moving, one. How we can get our children back to school, back into childcare, second, and third, how we can travel to work and how we can make life in the workplace safer. And in short how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy,” he said.

Downing Street played down expectations of a significant easing of restrictions when the government reviews the lockdown next week, suggesting that some measures could be tightened. And Mr Johnson signalled a change in his government’s policy on wearing face masks in public, which ministers have dismissed until now as ineffective.

“I do think that face coverings will be useful, both for epidemiological reasons, but also for giving people confidence that they can go back to work,” he said.

Earlier, chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak moved to support newspapers and book publishers by removing VAT on e-books and digital news subscriptions. He also announced £35 million in extra government spending on advertising in local, regional and national print media.