Johnson gave a briefing from outside Downing Street to mark his return on Monday morning, apologizing for “being away from his desk” and saying that the fight against coronavirus was the biggest single challenge the country has faced since the Second World War.
He said the U.K. is making progress in its fight against the disease, with fewer hospital admissions and real signs that the country is passing the peak of the virus.
However, he warned that the U.K. is at the point of “maximum risk” with regards to COVID-19, and that he would not “throw away the sacrifice of the British people” by easing lockdown restrictions too quickly. “I know it is tough. I want to get the economy moving as fast as I can,” he said. “But I refuse to throw away the sacrifice of the British people…and risk a second peak.”
It has been a month since Johnson first revealed his virus diagnosis. After 10 days battling the illness at home, he was admitted on April 5 to St Thomas’s Hospital in central London, including three nights in intensive care.
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Last week, Johnson spoke to the Queen and U.S. President Donald Trump, and also met with senior ministers.
The prime minister’s return to work comes amid mounting pressure from British legislators and businesses to gradually begin lifting lockdown measures. However, scientists and health workers fear that easing restrictions too soon could spark an upsurge in coronavirus cases.
The total number of deaths in U.K. hospitals now stands at 20,732, after a further 413 were announced on Sunday.
Observers argue that Johnson’s own coronavirus experience will strongly shape his views on how to deal with easing the lockdown, and his sense of caution about relaxing restrictions was evident from his remarks this morning.
Strict limits on daily life — such as requiring people to stay at home, shutting many businesses and preventing gatherings of more than two people — were introduced on March 23, as the U.K. government tried to limit the spread of the virus.
Ministers are required by law to assess whether the rules are working, based on expert advice, every three weeks. The next review is due on May 7.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been deputizing for the Prime Minister in his absence, said on Sunday that social distancing would remain for “some time” in the U.K.