Boris Johnson has told the nation he is “absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country” and the tide can be turned within the next 12 weeks.
The Prime Minister urged members of the public to heed the advice to keep up social distancing and stay at home if ill or if somebody in their household is ill as he said: “I know it’s tough, I know it’s difficult… but please, please follow the advice.”
He thanked everyone for the “huge efforts that the country is making” and urged businesses to stand by their employees, with further announcements due from Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Friday.
But he stressed that “nothing is ruled out”, suggesting tougher restrictions on movement could be introduced if people failed to comply with advice.
“I’m conscious as the days have gone by that people will want to know how long we’re expecting them to keep it up,” he told reporters at his daily press conference in Downing Street.
“I think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country.
“But only if we all take the steps that we’ve outlined, that is vital, that’s how we’re going to reduce the peak and once we’ve achieved that and I think that we will, if we take the steps I’ve said, then the scientific progress that we’ve been making will really start coming into play.”
It comes as the Queen issued a message to the nation which says the UK is “entering a period of great concern and uncertainty”, adding that “our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one”.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Italy rose to 3,405, overtaking the total number of deaths so far registered in China.
In the UK, the death toll reached 144 as of 1pm on Thursday, with around four in 10 of all deaths so far in London.
Some 56 of the total deaths have been recorded in the capital, according to calculations by the PA news agency, with the next highest total in the West Midlands (27).
Mr Johnson told reporters that British experts expect to start trials for a vaccine against Covid-19 within a month, although expectations are that a vaccine will take at least a year.
What I can say is that this is going to be finite, we will turn the tide, and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeksBoris Johnson
He added: “To give you an idea of what is coming down the track, we’re in negotiations today to buy a so-called antibody test, as simple as a pregnancy test, which can tell whether you have had the disease and it’s early days, but if it works as its proponents claim, then we will buy literally hundreds of thousands of these kits as soon as practicable.”
He said knowing whether you have had Covid-19 could be a “total game-changer” as it would mean those people could get back to work and a normal routine.
Mr Johnson said: “By the same token we’re massively increasing the testing to see whether you have it now and ramping up daily testing from 5,000 a day, to 10,000 to 25,000 and then up at 250,000.”
He said the “combination of ruthless, determined, collective action and scientific progress” could save “many, many thousands of lives”.
But he said he could not guarantee that by the end of June the peak would be on a “downward slope”, although he promised restrictive measures “would be finite”.
He said: “Now I cannot stand here and tell you that by the end of June that we will be on the downward slope. It’s possible but I simply can’t say that that’s for certain, of course not, we don’t know where we are, and we don’t know how long this thing will go on for.
“But what I can say is that this is going to be finite, we will turn the tide, and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeks.”
The government’s scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: “The sooner we get the (epidemic) down, the more then we can move into phases where we can test and trace and make sure we keep on top of this.”
He added that the 12 weeks “is the timescale over which we need to really push to make sure that we get there”.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned there will be a “lag” before the public’s efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 will result in a slowing of case numbers.
He said his next priority on testing was for NHS workers, adding he “completely” understood concerns about a lack of public protective equipment (PPE) for staff and this was a major strand of work in the Department of Health.
It comes as:
– More than 65,000 former nurses and doctors will today be told “Your NHS Needs You”, as a new recruitment drive gets under way.
– The Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1% and unleashed another £200 billion to boost the economy in its second emergency move in just over a week.
– Prince Albert II of Monaco tested positive for coronavirus.
– The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a virtual service on Sunday, which will be broadcast on all BBC local radio stations.
â¡ï¸Churches are finding new ways to worship and serve their communities.— The Church of England (@churchofengland) March 19, 2020
Here are some of our favourite examples from today:https://t.co/TaywXoCLmC
– The Government published its Emergency Coronavirus Bill on Thursday morning setting out measures aimed at slowing the spread and supporting the NHS and workers.
Earlier, Prof Whitty said the vast majority of people in all age groups would recover but it was a mistake for young people who are healthy to think they would all just “breeze through” the pandemic.
He said the “majority of those that end up dying sadly are people who tend to be either in the later part of their lives, usually quite elderly, or those with pre-existing health conditions.
The mixing in pubs and restaurants and so on that is part of allowing the disease to spread needs to stop and it needs to stop among young people as well as older peopleSir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser
“But there are also some young people who have ended up in intensive care or who have ended up with severe disease around the world.
“I think it’s important that we don’t give the impression that every single person who is young and healthy is just going to breeze through this.”
He said the “great majority” of people will suffer no symptoms or mild to moderate symptoms, but a very small proportion of young people “will have severe disease even though they are young and healthy”.
Prof Whitty continued: “It’s important we’re clear in not trying to say ‘really, really worry’, but we also need to be clear in saying this is not a trivial infection for everybody, even if they are a young adult.”
Sir Patrick urged people to follow the measures set down by the Government, saying: “Unless everybody looks at the measures that have been introduced by the Government on trying to encourage social distancing, unless everybody does that it doesn’t have the effect.
“And so what we absolutely shouldn’t encourage is the idea that young people somehow can ignore it because they are going to be fine.
“The mixing in pubs and restaurants and so on that is part of allowing the disease to spread needs to stop and it needs to stop among young people as well as older people.”