PM tight lipped on when lockdown will be eased

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Government statement: PM Boris Johnson apologised for being “away from my desk for longer than I would have liked”
Government statement: PM Boris Johnson apologised for being “away from my desk for longer than I would have liked”

Related tags: Coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government couldn’t say when lockdown restrictions will begin to be lifted in his first statement back after he contracted coronavirus.

He addressed the nation from outside Downing Street this morning (Monday 27 April) where he added the Government would say more about the easing of restrictions in “the coming days”.

Johnson spoke directly to businesses, including hospitality, to say he understood the impatience and urgency, but the country must avoid a second spike of the virus outbreak and another lockdown.

Social distancing

This comes after calls for more measures to protect hospitality businesses from trade body UKHospitality (UKH) last week (Friday 24 April).

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned social distancing measures could last beyond this year, in a press conference earlier this month (Wednesday 22 April).

On the same day, UKH wrote to minister for the cabinet office Michael Gove, who said hospitality would be among the last areas to reopen​​, with a six-point plan to help the industry reopen following the crisis.

This included an extension of the furlough scheme beyond June; legislative intervention on rent payments; improved access to capital; a comprehensive fiscal package to stimulate demand after the crisis; overhaul of business regulation; and to guarantee a functioning and responsive insurance market.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech in full:

Good morning.

I’m sorry I’ve been away from my desk for much longer than I would have liked and I want to thank everybody who has stepped up, in particular, the first secretary of state Dominic Raab, who has done a terrific job but, 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 this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land and 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 we are making progress, with fewer hospital admissions, fewer Covid patients in ICU and real signs now we are passing through the peak.

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 (NHS) from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically, we have seen elsewhere.

That is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide. If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and visible mugger, which I can tell you from personal experience, it is.

This is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.

It follows 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 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.

I know how hard and how stressful it has been to give up, even temporarily, those ancient and basic freedoms – not seeing friends, not seeing loved ones, working from home, managing the kids, worrying about your job and your firm.

Let me also say directly to British business, to the shopkeepers, to the entrepreneurs, to the hospitality sector, to everyone on whom our economy depends.

I understand your impatience, I share your anxiety and I know without our private sector, without the drive and commitment of the wealth creators of this country, there will be no economy to speak of.

There will be no cash to pay for our public services, no way of funding our NHS and yes I can see the long-term consequences of lockdown as clearly as anyone.

Yes, I entirely share your urgency, it’s the Government’s urgency and yet we must also recognise the risk of a second spike.

The risk of losing control of that virus and letting the reproduction rate go back over one because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster and we would be forced once again to slam on the brakes across the whole country and the whole economy and reimpose restrictions in such a way that is to do more and lasting damage.

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.

I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict and, in spite of all the suffering, we have so nearly succeeded.

We defied so many predictions. We did not run out of ventilators or intensive care unit (ICU) beds. We did not allow our NHS to collapse and, on the contrary, we have so far collectively shielded our NHS so our incredible doctors and nurses and healthcare staff have been able to shield all of us from an outbreak that would have been far worse.

We collectively flattened the peak. When we are sure this first phase is over and 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.

In that process, difficult judgments will be made. 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.

I want to serve notice now that these decisions will be taken with the maximum possible transparency.

I want to share all our working, and our thinking, my thinking, with you, the British people. Of course, we will be relying, as ever, on the science to inform as, as we have from the beginning.

But we will also be reaching out to build the biggest possible consensus across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom, across party lines, bringing in opposition parties as far as we possibly can because I think that’s no less than what the British people would expect.

I can tell you now preparations are under way and have been for weeks to allow us to win phase two of this fight as I believe we are now on track to prevail in phase one.

I say to you finally, if you can keep going, in the way you have kept going so far, if you can help protect our NHS to save lives, and if we as a country, can show the same spirit of optimism and energy shown by Captain Tom Moore, who turns 100 this week.

If we can show the same spirit of unity and determination, as we have all shown in the past six weeks, then I have absolutely no doubt we will beat it together, we will come through this all the faster and the United Kingdom will emerge stronger than ever before.

Related topics: Legislation, UnitedWeStand

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