Boris Johnson back in No 10 ahead of Monday restart

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Boris Johnson is back in Downing Street after recovering from coronavirus.

The prime minister is set to take charge of the Government's response to the coronavirus outbreak once again and is said to be "raring to go" after spending two weeks at his official country residence Chequers.

It followed a week in St Thomas’ Hospital – including three nights in intensive care after his condition dramatically deteriorated.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Mr Johnson's return will be a "boost for the Government and a boost for the whole country".

"He's raring to go," Mr Raab added.

He returns to No 10 amid growing pressure from senior Conservatives to begin easing lockdown and growing dismay at the damage it is causing to the economy.

Both Mr Raab, who stood in for Mr Johnson during his recovery, and Environment Minister George Eustice warned it is too soon to begin relaxing social-distancing measures.

Scientists advising the Government on its response also warned it was far too soon to consider any relaxation, as the official death toll for the UK passed 20,000.

Officials were reported to be working on a Singapore-style plan for the passengers arriving at UK sea and airports to be quarantined for 14 days.

According to The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, it is intended to stop fresh cases arriving from abroad when the Government rolls out its “track and trace” scheme to identify and isolate new infections.

But Mr Eustice dismissed these reports as “speculation”.

“As we move to a new phase at some point in the future – we are not there yet – international travel could become a more significant part of the risk to manage," he said at Sunday's daily government briefing on the UK's handling of outbreak.

“At the moment, all of the evidence suggests it is only a tiny proportion of the cause of the coronavirus outbreak – if we got to that point, a number of measures would be considered but no decisions have been taken in this phase yet.”

The Prime Minister has been recovering at Chequers, his official country residence Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Mr Johnson prepared for his return with a three-hour summit meeting on Friday with Mr Raab and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

His main concern while he has been away was said to have been to ensure the lockdown conditions were kept in place long enough to prevent a second wave of the pandemic hitting the country.

Meanwhile, a series of wealthy Tory backers who have donated millions of pounds to the party coffers have urged the Government to begin loosening the restrictions to allow the economy to start up again.

Financiers Michael Spencer and Peter Hargreaves, the banker Sir Henry Angest, Phones4u founder John Caudwell and restaurateur Richard Caring all told The Sunday Times they wanted to see some re-opening of the economy.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on Mr Johnson to set out an exit strategy. Credit: PA

Steve Morgan, the former boss of the housebuilder Redrow, told the paper: “We’re actually in danger that the medicine – if you want to call the lockdown that – is more harmful than the cure.

“I’m strongly in favour of getting the country back to work. This is not about profit; this is about ­saving the country from going bankrupt, from mass unemployment, from businesses going bust, people losing their livelihoods and homes.”

In contrast, Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – which has been helping shape the Government’s response, warned any relaxation risked an upsurge of new cases.

Sir Keir Starmer added to the pressure on the Government. Credit: PA

“The strategy behind plans to lift the lockdown is based on the idea [that] you could then control the epidemic by testing people for infections before tracing their contacts,” he told The Observer.

“However, if we lifted the lockdown now, the testing and tracing system would be overwhelmed. We will have to get case numbers down a lot lower than they are now before we can think of lifting current regulations.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer added to the pressure on the Government by stepping up his calls for ministers to set out an “exit strategy” for lifting the restrictions once it was safe to do so.

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