Covid: Boris Johnson suggests need for social distancing will be over by 2021 Tory conference

Boris Johnson has suggested the need for social distancing will be over within a year, as he struck an optimistic tone about the coronavirus crisis in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

The prime minister, speaking to party members via video, said by the next Tory conference "we will be face to face and cheek by jowl", adding "we will no longer have to greet each other by touching elbows".

He said he was confident the UK would succeed in fighting off the virus "just as this country has seen off every alien invader for the last 1,000 years", but he said the country will not return to how it was before the pandemic.

"After all we have been through it is not enough just to go back to before. We have lost too much, we have mourned too many," he told the Conservative Party virtual conference.

"We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as before the plague and we will not.

"That is why this government will build back better."

During his speech, Mr Johnson also pledged to "fix the injustice of care home funding" and said the coronavirus crisis should be used as a catalyst to make the UK the world leader in clean power generation.

As part of his plan, he said he hoped to see every home in the UK powered by offshore wind within 10 years.

He used his own experience of having coronavirus to explain how the pandemic could drive the UK into better practices in the future.

He rubbished reports that his "own bout of Covid has somehow robbed me of my mojo", saying the accusation is "self-evident drivel".

He said he could "refute these critics of my athletic abilities in any way that they want, arm wrestling, leg wrestling... you name it.

"And yet I have to admit that the reason I had such a nasty experience with the disease is that although I was superficially in the pink of health when I caught it I had a very common underlying condition - my friends, I was too fat."

But he said his experience influenced him to lose weight, "and I have since lost 26 pounds."

The prime minister said the UK economy went into the pandemic with "chronic underlying problems" which he vowed to address.

"Long-term failure to tackle the deficit in skills, inadequate transport infrastructure, not enough homes people could afford to buy, especially young people.

"And far too many people across the whole country who felt ignored and left out, that the government was not on their side.

"And so we can't now define the mission of this country as merely to restore normality, that isn't good enough.

"In the depths of the Second World War, when just about everything had gone wrong, the government sketched out a vision of the post-war new Jerusalem that they wanted to build, and that is what we're doing now, in the teeth of this pandemic."

The prime minister confirmed plans for a green energy revolution, performing a U-turn on his previous criticism of wind power.

He said the Tories would help people take their first step on the housing ladder with 95% mortgages, transforming "generation rent into generation buy".

Mr Johnson said: "We will transform the sclerotic planning system, we will make it faster and easier to build beautiful new homes without destroying the green belt or desecrating our countryside.

"But these reforms will take time and they are not enough on their own.

"We need now to take forward one of the key proposals of our manifesto of 2019: giving young, first-time buyers the chance to take out a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage of up to 95% of the value of the home, vastly reducing the size of the deposit."

He added: "We believe that this policy could create two million more owner-occupiers, the biggest expansion of home ownership since the 1980s."