Boris Johnson has said the UK is turning the tide on tackling coronavirus but is still facing a moment of “maximum risk” and he will not be forced to end the lockdown prematurely.
Boris Johnson: UK beginning to turn the tide on coronavirus.
Prime minister returns to work but warns against country leaving lockdown too early.
This is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle [coronavirus] to the floor, and so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity. This is the moment when we can press home our advantage. It is also the moment of maximum risk, because I know that there will be many people looking now at our apparent success and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street on Monday, his first day back after recovering from coronavirus, the prime minister gave businesses a stark warning to contain their impatience on easing restrictions.
He said the UK was now "beginning to turn the tide". There were "real signs now that we are passing through the peak," he said. I said:
Thanks to your forbearance, your good sense your altruism, your spirit of community, thanks to our collective national resolve, we are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission to prevent our National Health Service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.
And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide.
This was Johnson effectively saying he remains committed to the prediction he made on 19 March (five and a half weeks ago) when he said the UK would “turn the tide within the next 12 weeks”.
But Johnson also effectively re-defined "turning the tide", saying that the UK was now near the point where it could move from "the first phase" to the "second phase". Last month, when I made his "turning the tide" prediction, Johnson said:
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.
Now no one is talking about sending coronavirus packing (Prof Chris Whitty, the government's chief medical adviser, said last week coronavirus “is not going to be eradicated”) and Johnson said the aims in phase one were to ensure the NHS did not get overwhelmed and to "flatten the peak" of the curve.
Johnson said that in the second phase lockdown restrictions would start to be lifted - but only "gradually". I said:
We are meeting our five tests: deaths falling; NHS protected; rate of infection down; really sorting out the challenges of testing and PPE; avoiding a second peak.
Then that will be the time to move on to the second phase, in which we continue to suppress the disease and keep the reproduction rate, the r rate, down, but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy.