Coronavirus: Boris Johnson says this is moment of maximum risk

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Media captionThe PM warned the country was at the ‘moment of maximum risk’

The UK is at the moment of maximum risk in the coronavirus outbreak, Boris Johnson has said, as he urged people not to lose patience with the lockdown.

Speaking outside No 10 for the first time since recovering from the virus, Mr Johnson said “we are now beginning to turn the tide” on the disease.

He said lockdown would not be relaxed too soon but details on any changes will be set out over the “coming days”.

Some paused NHS services in England, such as cancer care, are to resume.

And the families of front-line NHS and social care staff who die with coronavirus will receive a £60,000 compensation payment, the government has announced.

It comes as the latest daily figures show a further 360 people died with the virus in hospitals, taking the total number of deaths to 21,092.

This number includes 82 NHS staff and 16 care workers who have died in hospital.

The UK deaths figure do not include people who died in the community, for example in care homes, or people who have died in their own homes.

‘Invisible mugger’

The prime minister returned to Downing Street on Sunday after more than three weeks off sick.

Mr Johnson said he understood concerns from business owners who were impatient to end the lockdown.

But ending it too soon could lead to a second spike in cases and cause more deaths, “economic disaster” and restrictions being reintroduced, he said.

He said there were “real signs now that we are passing through the peak” – including with fewer hospital admissions and fewer Covid-19 patients in intensive care.

And comparing the outbreak to someone being attacked, Mr Johnson 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.”

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Image caption Soldiers give instructions at a drive-through testing centre in Salisbury
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption As people are told to stay at home, triathlete Lloyd Bebbington trains in a pool in his garden in Newcastle-under-Lyme

Mr Johnson said the UK has “so far collectively shielded our NHS” and “flattened the peak” – but he could not yet say when or which restrictions would be lifted to ease lockdown.

Once the UK is meeting the five tests for easing restrictions – including a consistent fall in the death rate and making sure the NHS can cope – “then that will be the time to move on to the second phase” in the fight against the outbreak, he said.

But he added: “We simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow, or even when those changes will be made though. Clearly, the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.”

A Downing Street spokesman said there could be more on how the government will judge the country’s ability to “move forward” by the end of the week.

Labour’s environment spokesman Luke Pollard said he welcomed signs the government would be more transparent about exiting lockdown, adding the party had called for the government to publish its strategy.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish government’s daily briefing, it was “not the time to throw caution to the wind” and lift lockdown measures – although there had been “real signs of progress”.

Speaking at the Downing Street briefing later, the UK government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, said scientists were trying to asses how “opening up of different bits of society” would affect the spread of he virus.

But he warned there was “no perfect solution” and said ministers would face “very difficult choices” about what measures could be lifted.

The political could hardly be more personal.

But the prime minister’s return to work and return to health is far from a metaphor for the country making a quick recovery from the crisis.

In contrast, Boris Johnson’s statement at the lectern this morning was a request to the public to be patient, to keep going, to hold firm through the frustrations of living life mainly behind closed doors for a while longer.

Despite some restlessness among the public, increasing volume in his own party, and from the opposition for a clearer route out of this, for the prime minister it’s not yet the time to give more detail – and certainly not yet the time to change any of the restrictions.

And when that time is reached, when the infection rate is deemed low enough, he was clear, that there will be no sudden nirvana – life in the ‘next phase’ will be a slow return of a more familiar rhythm, acknowledging, but not being swayed by demands to open up the economy much more swiftly.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced plans at the briefing to restart some NHS services which were paused to help the health service cope during the outbreak.

Mr Hancock said the “most urgent” services – such as cancer care and mental health support – would be restored first, starting on Tuesday.

“The exact pace of the restoration will be determined by local circumstances on the ground, according to local need and according to the amount of coronavirus cases that that hospital is having to deal with,” he said.

The health secretary also announced details of the new life assurance for NHS and social care workers who die on the front line from coronavirus.

He said the government wanted to do “everything we can to support families” dealing with their grief and was “looking at other professions” for who the scheme could be expanded.

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Media captionHancock: “We want to do everything we can to support families dealing with this grief”

The minister has set a target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day across the country by 30 April.

But latest Department of Health figures show 37,024 tests were carried out on Sunday – still far short of the target.

Mr Hancock said he was still confident of reaching the target, which he said would be “big enough” to support the next phase of the government’s strategy to “test, track and trace”.

Earlier, Downing Street said it could take a “couple of days or more” before it was clear if Thursday’s 100,000 testing target has been met. A spokesman said there was a “time lag” in collating some of the figures, such as on home testing kits.

Mr Hancock said the government is still aiming to conduct 250,000 tests a day – including antibody tests.

“We want testing to continue to increase. As you will know, the Prime Minister set a goal of 250,000 some time ago – especially for when the antibody tests come on stream.

“But, so far, there isn’t one of those that is clinically valid.”

Monday’s press conference was the first to feature a question from a member of the public. Anyone over the age of 18 can submit a question, which will be chosen by an independent polling organisation.

There have been a lot of question marks about whether the government will hit its target of testing 100,000 people a day by Thursday.

The latest figures show 37,000 tests a day were done – although there is capacity to do much more.

Ministers remain confident they will get there – although they say it may take a few days to show up in the figures.

It comes after they have started sending out home-testing kits and setting up a network of mobile testing units run by the army.

These add to the drive-thru facilities and hospital testing centres.

Interestingly, at the daily briefing Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested meeting the target would be enough to offer testing to the public – considered an important step in helping ease lockdown restrictions.

He said in Germany, which has a similar size population as the UK, there was capacity for just over 100,000 tests a day, but only about half of that was being used.

Small business loans

Elsewhere, the Treasury has announced extra loans for small businesses, after they raised concerns about slow access to existing coronavirus rescue schemes.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Commons the scheme would start next week, offering loans to small firms for 25% of turnover, up to £50,000, within days of applying. The loans would be interest free for the first 12 months, he added.

BBC Business editor Faisal Islam said the new scheme has been “aimed at unlocking a backlog of credit checks for smaller loans”.

Loans to larger businesses under the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme will continue to get 80% government-backing.

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Image caption In Capel in Surrey, villagers have made scarecrows of key workers

Mr Johnson was diagnosed with the virus a month ago. He was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London on 5 April and spent a week there, including three nights in intensive care.

He has not been doing any official government work during his convalescence at his country residence, Chequers, although last week he did speak to the Queen and US President Donald Trump, as well as meeting senior ministers.

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 23 March, as the 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 by next Thursday 7 May.

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