Boris Johnson has promised to deliver a “comprehensive plan” next week on how the UK lockdown may be eased, suggesting he will set out efforts to get the economy moving and children back to school.
Fronting his first Downing Street press conference since being hospitalised for Covid-19, the Prime Minister said he had been “very, very lucky” and had experienced “wonderful” NHS carers but said “thousands of people have been less fortunate than I was”.
The PM said the country was now “past the peak of this disease” and “on the downward slope” as he responded to pressure to set out a blueprint for how the lockdown may be eased.
He said: “I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.
“In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.”
However, the PM cautioned that the timing around easing each individual restriction would depend on “where we are in the epidemic” and what the data suggests.
He told reporters: “What you are going to get next week is really a road map, a menu of options.
“The dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic, what the data is really saying, and we are getting in a lot more data every day now and in the course of the next few days.”
Responding to a question from a member of the public, Michelle from Cornwall, Mr Johnson said there was a need to get tourism going again but “an influx of tourists” could not be encouraged that would risk a second spike of coronavirus.
England’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the number of people being admitted to hospital across every region in England still needs to be driven down.
But he added: “The number of new cases is down, that’s turning into fewer admissions, fewer people in hospital, fewer people in intensive care and we’re beginning to see that decrease in deaths.”
The PM stressed that the R value – the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to – needs to stay under one to avoid coronavirus taking off again at speed.
He said: “We have come through the peak, or rather we have come under what could have been a vast peak, as though we have been going through some huge Alpine tunnel and we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us.
“And so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain.”
He said he “mourned for every life lost” and also the “economic damage the country is sustaining”, but predicted a “bad” second coronavirus peak would do “lasting” damage to the UK economy if lockdown measures were lifted too quickly.
“It is absolutely vital, if we’re to bounce back as strongly as I think we can, that we don’t have a second bout or second bad spike,” he said.
“Because that would really do the lasting economic damage.
“That’s why we have to calibrate our measures so carefully and make sure we not only unlock the economy gradually, but also find ways of continuing to suppress the disease, and possibly find new, more ingenious ways of suppressing the disease.”
The latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care show that 26,771 people have now died in all settings with coronavirus, an increase of 674 on the number announced on Wednesday.
The new death toll came as:
– An international clinical trial found the Ebola drug remdesivir speeds up recovery from coronavirus by almost a third.
– The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca joined forces for the large-scale manufacture and distribution of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine if it is proven to work during clinical trials.
– Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s and banking group Lloyds warned of hits to profits from the coronavirus crisis.
– Captain Tom Moore celebrated his 100th birthday at home with his family after a whirlwind few weeks in which he has been elevated to national hero status and raised more than £32 million for the NHS.
Clapping again for our tremendous carers tonight and wishing hero @captaintommoore a very happy birthday.— Carrie Symonds (@carriesymonds) April 30, 2020
I also have another wonderful reason to thank the NHS this week too 👶
Thank you so, so much! 👏👏👏👏👏🌈🌈🌈🌈
The Prime Minister, whose fiancee Carrie Symonds gave birth to a son on Wednesday, said: “I want to thank everybody who has been doing such a good job in my absence, and I want to thank the NHS for so much – including getting me back here and, I might add, a very much happier hospital visit yesterday.”
Signalling that the guidance on the use of face coverings could change in favour of recommending them, Mr Johnson said that “as part of coming out of the lockdown, I do think that face coverings will be useful both for epidemiological reasons but also for giving people confidence they can go back to work”.
Asked whether there could be a return to austerity in the aftermath of the pandemic, Mr Johnson said: “I think the economy will bounce back strongly, I think that this Government will want to encourage that bounce back in all kinds of ways.”
Earlier, Downing Street insisted the Government is “working hard” to hit its 100,000-tests-per-day target by the end of the day.
The latest daily testing figures show 81,611 tests on 54,575 people have been carried out, though a time lag in reporting suggests it could be a few days before it is known whether the target was met.