The Prime Minister confirmed he is back in charge over three weeks after being struck down with Covid-19, but has asked the public to be “patient” as it was too early to “go easy” on the lockdown restrictions. Mr Johnson said the stringent restrictions would be “refined” once the outbreak was under control, adding that he would be “transparent” about the following moves and urging Opposition parties to co operate with him.
The Prime Minister said: “We are now beginning to turn the tide.
“I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe now we are coming to the end of the first phase of this conflict.”
The Prime minister’s speech comes as Cabinet ministers are in continuous talks over how and when lockdown measures will be eased.
Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt and International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said there had been huge volumes of incoming mail from “business owners who are desperate to get back to work”.
Indicators like a hike in traffic levels and shops and construction sites returning to activity suggest Britons are becoming increasingly impatient and uncertain about when lockdown measures will be lifted.
The PM spokesman said: “There could be easing in some areas, there could also be a toughening in other areas,
“We will not be returning immediately to life as we knew it.”
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the figures show the UK is going “through the peak” of the pandemic, but added: “There is a long long way to go beyond that.
“It is a big mistake in my view just to look at the first phase. We need to look at the epidemic as a whole.”
In his first address since he got admitted to hospital with Covid-19, Mr Johnson said he had been “away from my desk for much longer than I would’ve liked”.
He said: “Once again I want to thank you the people of this country for the sheer grit and guts you’ve shown and are continuing to show.
“Every day I know that this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land.”
Mr Johnson said: “It is still true that this is the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war and I in no way minimise the continuing problems we face
“And yet it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer Covid patients in ICU and real signs now that we are passing through the peak.
“And 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.
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“And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide.”
Mr Johnson, speaking of his high against the virus which saw him transferred to intensive care, said: “If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger – which I can tell you from personal experience, it is – then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it 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.
“I know there will be many people looking at our apparent success, and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.”
He said he understood “how hard and stressful it has been to give up, even temporarily, those ancient and basic freedoms”.
Mr Johnson added: “And so I know it is tough. And I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.”
Mr Johnson’s words about the end of the first phase evoked Winston Churchill’s celebrated 1942 address after the Allies defeated Rommel’s forces at El Alamein.
The wartime PM said: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
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