Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work on Monday after recovering from COVID-19 with a warning that it was still too dangerous to relax a stringent lockdown hammering Britain’s economy for fear of a deadly second outbreak.
“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.”
With unemployment soaring, many companies crippled and a recession looming, Johnson said he understood the concerns of business and would consult with opposition parties pressing for clarity on a pathway out of lockdown.
But with Britain suffering one of the world’s highest death tolls – 20,732 hospital deaths reported as of Saturday – he stressed it was still a time of maximum risk and there would be no swift lifting of restrictions.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The most stringent lockdown in peacetime has left Britain facing possibly the deepest recession in three centuries and the biggest debt splurge since World War Two.
Johnson’s government, party and scientific advisers are divided over how and when the world’s fifth-largest economy should start returning to work, even in limited form.