Boris Johnson to set out 'road map' for lockdown exit strategy next week as UK passes virus peak

  • Video report by ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston

Boris Johnson will set out a "road map" for the UK's coronavirus lockdown exit strategy "next week", he has said, after confirming Britain has "passed the peak" of Covid-19.

He resisted calls to announce the plan at Thursday evening's coronavirus press conference, saying any relaxation now would "risk a second peak" in the virus.

The prime minister said the spread of the virus was "on the downward slope" with less people dying each day, hospital admissions falling and the number of patients in intensive care also falling.

"We’ve come under what could have been a vast peak, as though we’ve been going through some huge alpine tunnel and we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us.

"And so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain," he said.

His return to action this week had caused many to speculate about an easing of restrictions, but Mr Johnson said people would have to wait for the government to "calibrate" measures "carefully" to allow the economy to be unlocked "gradually".

Next week the public will be presented with a "menu of options" for ways to ease restrictions, with the date and time of each individual measure being "very much driven by where we are in the epidemic".

He said face coverings will be “useful” as part of the strategy for coming out of lockdown “both for epidemiological reasons but also giving people confidence they can go back to work”.

But he said he "cannot say exactly when" steps will be taken to ease lockdown and until that moment "we are going to have to beat this disease by our growing resolve and ingenuity".

  • Two weeks ago when lockdown restrictions were extended until May, ITV News took a look at what the options are for lifting them

He added: “I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.

“In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.”

The UK's death toll has increased by 674 fatalities since yesterday, the prime minister said, putting the total death toll at 26,711.

He claimed the UK had so far "succeeded" in its aims to protect the NHS and "avoid the tragedy that engulfed other parts of the world".

"At no stage has out NHS been overwhelmed," he said, with no one being denied a ventilator, a hospital bed, or a stay in intensive care.

Referring to conditions needed for easing lockdown restrictions, Mr Johnson said: “We must be sure that we can continue to protect the NHS and its ability to cope.

“We must see a sustained fall in deaths.

“We must all make sure that the measures we take do not risk a second spike that would overwhelm the NHS.”

Sir Keir Starmer said the PM's commitment to outline an exit strategy next week is a “step in the right direction”.

Ahead of the press conference the Labour leader told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston that an inquiry into the handling of coronavirus was "inevitable".

  • Robert Peston on Boris Johnson's return to daily briefings:

Mr Johnson said the main consideration regarding lockdown was the rate of infection - or the R number - and a video was played during the press conference to explain what that means.

Earlier there had been speculation that the government was going to fail to hit its coronavirus test target of 100,000 a day by the end of April, but the latest figures look hopeful.

Mr Johnson said 81,011 tests were carried out on Wednesday.

He acknowledged the “frustrations” in expanding the number of coronavirus tests and the difficulties getting sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We’re determined urgently and in particular to overcome those challenges that have in the last few weeks been so knotty and so infuriating,” the PM said.

But he said the government was "throwing everything at it, heart and soul, night and day" to achieve all its ambitions on testing and PPE.

"We will get it right and we’re making huge progress," he added.

Mr Johnson was back his "boffins" - as his top advisors Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Valance have been described - for first the time since contracting Covid-19 himself in March.

He said he was "sorry not to have been part of this trio" for so long and thanked everyone who had done "such a good job" in his absence.

  • The R number (rate of infection) explained:

Chief medical officer for England Professor Whitty said the rate of infection needed to remain below one before the lockdown could be safely lifted.

He said: “There isn’t a perfect answer to what should the R be (to lift the lockdown) but we’re absolutely confident that the wrong answer is anything over one.

“Because as soon as R goes over one, then you restart exponential growth – it may be slow if it is just over one, it may be a lot faster if it goes a lot above one – but exponential growth restarts and, sooner or later – and the higher it is, the sooner it is – the NHS will go back to the risk of being overwhelmed and the number of cases will go up.”

He said “indirect deaths” could go up if the NHS is under strain from Covid-19 and cannot treat people with other ailments and diseases, and said the health service needed “headroom” to continue to carry out urgent cancer care and surgery.