COVID-19: Boris Johnson upbeat on first day back to work

The prime minister said the UK is 'making progress' but warned against lifting lockdown measures too soon

COVID-19: Boris Johnson upbeat on first day back to work

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is back at the helm leading efforts to stall the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, one month after he himself was stricken with the coronavirus disease.

“I’m sorry I’ve been away from my desk for much longer than I would’ve liked,” Johnson said in his first official statement outside 10 Downing Street on Monday.

The British prime minister is considered the first world leader to have contracted COVID-19, a respiratory illness whose death toll passed 200,000 in late April.

Johnson was taken into intensive care for three nights, at a time when the UK faced increasing pressure over its response to the pandemic.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Queen praises frontline workers

After having been criticised early on for his relaxed approach to stemming the spread of the virus, Johnson now draws from his experience battling the disease and urges Britons to remain vigilant.

“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,” he said.

The prime minister highlighted how the UK was “making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer COVID patients in ICU, and real signs now that we are passing through the peak”.

Despite these early gains, Johnson cautioned against lifting lockdown measures immediately.

“I know that 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,” he said, noting people’s frustrations over “not seeing friends, not seeing loved ones, working from home [and] managing the kids,” as well as their concerns over their jobs and the wider economy.

READ MORE: Some UK frontliners earn less than non-essential workers

Directly addressing UK businesses, Johnson said: “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.”

“Yes, I can see the long-term consequences of lockdown as clearly as anyone,” he said. “And so, yes, I entirely share your urgency. It’s the government’s urgency.”

But Johnson asked the public to recognise “the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus” if the government were to relax lockdown measures too soon.

“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 as to do more and lasting damage,” he said.

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