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UK 'coming to end' of phase one of COVID-19 response, says Boris Johnson on first day back to work

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Boris Johnson spoke outside Downing Street on Monday in his first speech since recovering from COVID-19
Boris Johnson spoke outside Downing Street on Monday in his first speech since recovering from COVID-19   -   Copyright  Frank Augstein/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Boris Johnson has said the UK is "on track to prevail in phase one" of its coronavirus response in his first speech since returning to work after recovering from the illness himself.

Speaking outside of Downing Street on Monday morning, the British prime minister acknowledged the "tough" restrictions that have been in place for five weeks, but urged for people to continue adhering to them to avoid a "second spike" of COVID-19.

He said there would be "difficult judgments" made over potential changes to the lockdown in coming days, and promised to speak "much more about it".

"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," he said.

"We defied so many predictions. We did not run out of ventilators or ICU beds. We did not allow our NHS to collapse. "

Johnson has been away from the UK's top job for three weeks after a stay in hospital - including three nights in intensive care - with COVID-19.

After being discharged, he travelled to his residence in the English countryside to recuperate.

But back at Number 10 on Monday, the 55-year-old is not only facing a decision of what to do about the lockdown ending May 7, but he is also tasked with how to restart the country's devastated economy.

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He said: "To everyone on whom the economy depends: I understand your impatience, I share your anxiety.

"I know that without our private sector, without the drive and commitment of the wealth creators, there will be no economy to speak of. There will be no cash to pay for our public services.

"I can see the long term consequences of lockdown as clearly as anyone, and, yes, I entirely share your urgency."

The British government has remained tight-lipped about its potential lockdown exit strategy - despite increasing pressure to reveal one - and has consistently maintained it is too early to do so.

Instead, ministers have repeatedly pointed towards five changes that need to occur in the COVID-19 data points before such a strategy can be considered.

These include:

  • A consistent fall in daily death and infection rates
  • Less pressure on health services
  • Acquiring enough protective equipment for key workers
  • Confidence that a second peak could be avoided

In his speech, Johnson said the country could begin "gradually to refine economic and social restrictions" once these five goalposts are reached, and move into a second response phase.

But he warned against lifting measures too early and risk "losing control" of the virus that would lead to "a new wave of death and disease, but also economic disaster."

He added: "We would be forced once again to slam on the breaks of the whole country and the whole economy and reimpose restrictions in such a way to do more and lasting damage."

A total of 20,732 people in the UK have died after contracting coronavirus, which is the fourth-highest death rate in Europe.

It comes as Spain and Italy - two of the countries worst-hit by the illness - revealed their own plans to ease stringent stay-at-home measures over the weekend.

Both countries recorded their lowest death figures in over month on Sunday, with Spain allowing children to go outside for the first time in six weeks.

Adults will be able to go out for exercise and to take walks from next weekend, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte told La Repubblica newspaper that manufacturing would restart on May 4 as the government considers further measures to ease the lockdown.

France is currently locked down until 11 May.