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Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street to steer coronavirus response

The PM resumes work amid a growing clamour for the lockdown to be eased.

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Boris Johnson is back in charge of the Government’s Covid-19 response (Leon Neal/PA)

Boris Johnson is back in charge of the Government’s Covid-19 response (Leon Neal/PA)

Boris Johnson is back in charge of the Government’s Covid-19 response (Leon Neal/PA)

Boris Johnson is back in Downing Street, having returned to take charge of the Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Prime Minister is resuming full-time duties at the head of the Government three weeks after he was admitted to hospital with the disease.

He will chair the regular morning meeting of the Government’s Covid-19 “war cabinet” before heading into a series of meetings with senior ministers and officials.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who has been deputising for him in his absence – said he was “raring to go” after a fortnight convalescing at Chequers, his official country residence.

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Social distancing rules remain in place (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Social distancing rules remain in place (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Social distancing rules remain in place (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Health minister Nadine Dorries, who herself tested positive for coronavirus, welcomed the Prime Minister’s return but said others who had spent time in intensive care with the illness would still be off work.

She tweeted: “Most who have been as poorly as Boris Johnson with Covid-19 and a patient for a week in intensive care, would be off work for least three months to fully recover their strength and repair their immune system. Our PM is back after just three weeks. Good luck boss.”

He arrived back on Sunday evening to a growing clamour from senior Tories to begin lifting the lockdown amid mounting concern at the damage it is causing to the economy.

Scientists advising the Government have warned any relaxation risks a renewed flare up just as the numbers of patients in hospital with the disease is beginning to fall.

Over the weekend, ministers highlighted a warning by Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey of the economic devastation a second wave of the disease would cause.

Mr Raab said the outbreak was at a “delicate and dangerous” phase and people would have to get used to a “new normal” – with social distancing measures set to remain in place for “some time” to come.

Mr Johnson – who spent a week in St Thomas’ Hospital in London, including three nights in intensive care – is said to be determined to ensure that there is no second peak.

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Dominic Raab has said people will have to get used to a ‘new normal’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

Dominic Raab has said people will have to get used to a ‘new normal’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

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Dominic Raab has said people will have to get used to a ‘new normal’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

The pressure to begin easing the restrictions came from a series of wealthy Tory backers who called over the weekend for the Government to allow the economy to re-start.

They echoed former chancellor Philip Hammond who said the country could not afford to wait for a vaccine to be developed, saying the “economy will not survive that long”.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee of MPs, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that more needed to be done to get the economy moving, and there was a limit to how long people would tolerate restrictions, especially if they seemed illogical.

He urged an “overriding principle … that we will only maintain those restrictions which are necessary and if there is a question over whether something is necessary or not, I think we should err on the side of openness and trying to make sure that more people can get on with their lives and more people can get on with getting back to their jobs”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – while backing the lockdown – added to the pressure with a renewed call for the Government to set out an “exit strategy” explaining how it will eventually be lifted.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will face further questions from MPs when he delivers a Commons statement on the state of the economy.

He has already had to effectively tear up his first Budget last month just days after delivering it with a series of massive bailouts designed to keep the economy afloat through the crisis.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has less than two weeks before the next major decision point comes up with the next three-week review of the lockdown restrictions due on May 7.

Mr Raab said the Government was doing its “homework” in preparation for when the rules could be eased.

It is thought that amongst the first could be a re-opening of schools, although Mr Raab said that would be “inconceivable” without some further measures in place.

Ministers are also thought to be considering allowing some non-essential businesses to open such as garden centres and car showrooms, provided social-distancing could be maintained.

Mr Raab also indicated that officials were looking at possible checks at air and sea ports with passengers arriving in the UK required to quarantine for 14 days.

Such a measure could form part of the next stage of the Government’s response – the so-called “test, track and trace” strategy designed to further suppress the spread of the disease by isolating new cases.

However, Government scientific and medical experts have indicated the current infection rate will have to come down further before such tactics can be effective.

In the meantime, ministers have insisted that they remain on track to meet Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month which falls on Thursday.

Mr Raab said at the weekend that the testing capacity had risen to more than 50,000 – although according to the latest official figures the numbers carried out have only reached 29,000.

Ministers will be hoping they pick up as NHS staff and other key workers return to work following the weekend.

PA