Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain is past the peak of its coronavirus outbreak and has promised to set out a lockdown exit strategy next week, despite rising deaths and criticism of his government’s response.
Holding his first news conference since recovering from COVID-19, and a day after his fiancee Carrie Symonds gave birth, Mr Johnson offered hope to locked-down Britons but urged them to stick with restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.
“I can confirm today that, for the first time, we are past the peak of this disease,” Mr Johnson said.
“We’re past the peak and we’re on the downward slope, and we have so many reasons to be hopeful for the long term.”
Nevertheless, Britain has the second-highest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe.
A total of 26,771 people have died of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, up 674 in a 24-hour period, data from the health ministry showed on Thursday.
The country has 171,253 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up by 6032 on the previous day.
Meanwhile, about two-thirds of British people believe the government was too slow to introduce strict social distancing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, according to an opinion poll.
IpsosMORI said there was “a significant rise” in the number of respondents who agreed that the government had acted “too late”, from 57 per cent two weeks ago to 66 per cent in its latest poll of more than 1000 people.
Many health experts and opposition politicians have accused the government of a slow response to the crisis and criticised Britain’s low level of testing and poor preparation for a pandemic.
Britain confirmed thousands of COVID-19-linked deaths in care homes on Wednesday, raising its death toll from the virus to 26,097. That is the second-highest in Europe, behind Italy.
The high death toll has put pressure on the government for its response to the outbreak and is fuelling caution in lifting restrictions on movement in case that leads to a second spike.
But, with rising unemployment and many companies crippled, the government is under pressure to outline an exit strategy.
Mr Johnson promised to set out next week a “menu of options” for how the lockdown could be relaxed. But he said the exact dates of any change would be driven by scientific advice and data.
The government also faces questions over its likely failure to meet a target Heath Minister Matt Hancock set of carrying out 100,000 daily tests for the virus by the end of April. Testing is seen as key to ending the lockdown.
A first review into the lockdown must come before May 7 and scientific advisers have presented ministers with options for how it might be eased.
The opposition Labour Party has accused the government of being slow to react to the crisis, by delaying the imposition of the lockdown and then failing to ramp up the provision of protective equipment to frontline staff and the number of tests.