British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is back in office but he has warned that it would be premature to lift the coronavirus restrictions.
Speaking outside Downing Street on Monday, he urged the public to be patient in what he called “the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war”.
He said Britain is “turning the tide” on the virus and it is also the “the moment of maximum risk”.
Using a metaphor to drive home his point, Johnson said: “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, who was infected by the virus and spent three days in ICU of St Thomas Hospital, said the country had “so very nearly succeeded” in winning the first phase of the fight against coronavirus.
He said he was eager to “fire up the engines of this vast UK economy” but would not do so if it risked overwhelming the National Health Service and threatened lives.
“We must also recognise the risk of a second spike and letting the reproduction rate go back over one.
“That would not only be 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 whole economy and reimpose restrictions,” he said.
The decision about how and when to relax the lockdown is top of his in tray, as pressure has mounted from businesses, backbench Conservative MPs, donors and some ministers to set out an exit strategy.
The prime minister said it was too soon to launch the “second phase” of the fight against coronavirus but confirmed that when the stringent social distancing restrictions were lifted, it would be done in a gradual way.
But he quashed suggestions that any easing of restrictions was imminent; the government is required by law to review the lockdown by May 7 and some ministers expect the first relaxation could be announced next week.
“I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS,” he said.
Mr Johnson also spoke of the need to secure the “biggest possible consensus across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom, across party lines” as the economy was gradually opened up. “I’ve absolutely no doubt we will beat it,” he said.
*With reports by Financial Times