Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will present his lockdown exit strategy for the United Kingdom next week, amid growing concerns about the devastating effect the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the country’s economy.
Giving his first Covid-19 briefing since falling ill to the disease himself five weeks ago, Johnson said the UK was "past the peak" and "on the downward slope.''
Johnson said that another 674 people with the coronavirus had died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings over the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 26,711. It is the third-highest official toll in the world, behind the United States and Italy.
The government is facing criticisms over its failure to test widely in the early stage of the outbreak and the lack of protective equipment for health care workers. It has admitted it will not reach its target of 100 000 virus tests a day, which it set for May 1.
However, the number of daily tests shot up from just over 52,000 to 81,611 on Wednesday, the prime minister revealed.
“It did very much feel he was claiming some level of victory at this event. It’s the first time he’s given the briefing in the five weeks since he was first infected himself by the coronavirus and hospitalised,” journalist Tadhg Enright told Euronews.
“But already we’re hearing from the opposition Labour Party and its relatively new leader Sir Keir Starmer saying that it is inevitable that there will be a public enquiry into whether the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has cost lives.”
Watch Tadhg's report in the video player above.
Five key tests to ease lockdown
The UK's Conservative government is under pressure over the lockdown amid calls for a clearer vision of an exit strategy to be given. It comes as other European countries have set out dates for reopening businesses and schools.
Boris Johnson set out steps to be achieved in order to continue to suppress the disease and restart the economy, promising more details for businesses and schools in his plan next week.
He said the government would be guided by science and would aim for a "maximum political consensus", and that there were five key tests to satisfy:
- ensure the NHS (UK health service) is protected and able to cope
- there must be a sustained fall in deaths
- authorities must be sure the infection rate is falling
- the health service must be able to overcome operational and logistical challenges over PPE (personal protective equipment)
- most importantly, the government must be sure that measures taken do not risk a second spike in coronavirus cases that would overwhelm the NHS
The prime minister said it was vital not to lose control and hit a "bigger mountain". The fifth test meant that nothing should lift the "R" rate of infection above 1 -- the figure meaning a rate where every person with COVID-19 infects one other.
Other UK figures published on Thursday and announced by Johnson showed that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 6,032 in a day to 171,253.
But more people are leaving hospital after being treated for COVID-19 and recovering. The number stands at 15,043 - down from 15,359 the previous day.