Boris is Back: UK PM Makes First Public Appearance in 25 Days, Calls for Optimism and Determination

Boris
10 Downing Street YouTube channel

The United Kingdom is close to ‘winning’ phase one of the battle against coronavirus, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he appeared outside Downing Street upon his return to work, following his recovery from the China virus.

Addressing the United Kingdom from Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s office and official London residence on Monday morning, Boris Johnson doubled down on the government’s broader message that ending lockdown was not on the near horizon, but urged for optimism. The PM insisted that the nation would beat “phase two” of the coronavirus response, just as it has very nearly “won” phase one, but did not make clear if there would be further phases beyond.

Making his first public appearance in 25 days — the last having been a brief appearance outside Downing Street on April 2nd as part of the government’s ‘clap for carers‘ initiative — the Prime Minister attempted to strike an upbeat and encouraging note. While acknowledging the lockdown had been difficult on individuals, families, and businesses, he said more had to be done while emphasising the importance of the nation pulling together.

Mr Johnson said: “if you can keep going in the way that you have kept going so far, if you can help protect the 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 that we will beat it together. We will come through this all the faster, and the United Kingdom will emerge stronger than ever before.”

Offering evidence that the lockdown strategy had worked to the government’s satisfaction, the PM pointed out that the country hadn’t run out of intensive care beds or ventilators, as had been feared early in the crisis when Italy provided the only clear model of how the infection might run its course. The PM strongly emphasised the importance of not losing patience with the lockdown, and compared coronavirus with a mugger who only now is being “wrestled” to the ground.

Nevertheless, Mr Johnson spoke of two phases of coronavirus response the country had to contend with. The United Kingdom was close to winning the first phase, he said, and would soon move onto the second — but the PM clearly implied the lockdown measures would remain and only be run down very gradually.

The PM Said: “when we’re sure that this first phase is over, and that we’re meeting our five tests… 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 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.”

The Prime Minister was diagnosed with coronavirus on March 27th, but kept working as the head of the government for ten more days until he was admitted to hospital on April 5th. While a government spokesman initially claimed Mr Johnson was only moved to hospital for tests, he was admitted to the intensive care unit within 24 hours of admission. Although the extent to which his health deteriorated is unclear — government sources insisted the PM never lost consciousness or had to be ventilated — he nevertheless praised the doctors and nurses who treated him for having saved his life.

Mr Johnson was released from hospital just six days later and moved to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat. While this is strictly against the government’s orders that city dwellers not travel to their rural second homes, an exception seems to have been made in the PM’s case.

U.S. President Donald Trump commented on Mr Johnson’s health last week when he expressed his surprise at how quickly the UK PM had bounced back, praising his “tremendous energy”. Speaking in Washington, President Trump told press he’d spoken to Boris Johnson by phone and while he expected his UK counterpart to sound unwell, in reality, he was like “the old Boris”.

He said: “I was very surprised, because he called me pretty close to when he got out of the hospital. I think he’s doing great. He was so sharp and energetic. Pretty incredible. He’s an incredible guy. He’s a friend of ours and a friend of mines…they’re lucky to have him over there.”

Read the Prime Minister’s comments 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, particularly 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 that 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 no way minimise the continuing problems we face.

And yet, it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer covid patients in ICU, and real signs now that we are passing through the peak. And 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 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 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 where 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 current success, and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.

And 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 — so let me say directly also 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 that 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. And so 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 breaks across the whole country and the whole economy. And re-impose restrictions in such a way as 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. And I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now of 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 ICU beds. We did not allow our NHS to collapse. And on the contrary, we have so far collectively shielded our NHS so that 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. So when we’re sure that this first phase is over, and that we’re 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 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 judgements will be made. And 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 and 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 us as we have from the beginning. But we will also be reaching out to build the biggest possible consensus across business, 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. And I can tell you know that the preparations are underway 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.

And so I say to you finally, if you can keep going in the way that you have kept going so far, if you can help protect the 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 that we will beat it together. We will come through this all the faster, and the United Kingdom will emerge stronger than ever before. Thank you all very much.

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