April 27, 2020 / 9:27 AM / a month ago

Text: UK PM Johnson says it's too soon to relax COVID lockdown

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday it was still too dangerous to relax a stringent lockdown hammering the economy as that may cause a deadly second outbreak.

Below are Johnson’s comments as sent to media by his Downing Street office.

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“I am sorry I have been away from my desk for much longer than I would have liked and I want to thank everybody who has stepped up, in particular the First Secretary of State Dominic Raab who has done a terrific job. But once again I want to thank you, the people of this country, for the sheer grit and guts you have shown and are continuing to show every day I know that this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land.

“And it is still true that this is the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war. And I in no way minimise the continuing problems we face. And yet it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer covid patients in ICU, and real signs now that we are passing through the peak and thanks to your forbearance, your good sense, your altruism, your spirit of community, thanks to our collective national resolve. We are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission: to prevent our national health service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.

“And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide. 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.

“And so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity. This is the moment when we can press home our advantage. It is also the moment of maximum risk because I know that there will be many people looking now at our apparent success and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.

“And I know how hard and how stressful it has been to give up even temporarily those ancient and basic freedoms, not seeing friends, not seeing loved ones, working from home, managing the kids, worrying about your job and your firm.

“So let me say directly also to British business, to the shopkeepers, to the entrepreneurs, to the hospitality sector, to everyone on whom our economy depends: I understand your impatience, I share your anxiety. And I know that without our private sector, without the drive and commitment of the wealth creators of this country, there will be no economy to speak of, there will be no cash to pay for our public services, no way of funding our NHS.

“And yes I can see the long term consequences of lock down as clearly as anyone. And so yes I entirely share your urgency. It’s the government’s urgency. And yet we must also recognise the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus and letting the reproduction rate go back over one, because that would mean not only 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 the whole economy and reimpose restrictions in such a way as to do more and lasting damage.

“And so I know it is tough and 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. And I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict.

“And in spite of all the suffering, we have so nearly succeeded. We defied so many predictions. We did not run out of ventilators or ICU beds. We did not allow our NHS to collapse. And on the contrary we have so far collectively shielded our NHS so that our incredible doctors and nurses and healthcare staff have been able to shield all of us from an outbreak that would have been far worse. And we collectively flattened the peak.

“And so when we are sure that this first phase is over and that we are meeting our five tests - deaths falling, NHS protected, rate of infection down, really sorting out the challenges of testing and PPE, avoiding a second peak - then that will be the time to move on to the second phase in which we continue to suppress the disease and keep the reproduction rate, the r rate, down, but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy.

“And in that process difficult judgments will be made and we simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks outside 10 Downing Street after recovering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, April 27, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

“And I want to serve notice now that these decisions will be taken with the maximum possible transparency. And I want to share all our working and our thinking, my thinking, with you the British people. And of course, we will be relying as ever on the science to inform us, as we have from the beginning, but we will also be reaching out to build the biggest possible consensus, across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom, across party lines, bringing in opposition parties as far as we possibly can, because I think that is no less than what the British people would expect.

“And I can tell you now that preparations are under way, and have been for weeks, to allow us to win phase two of this fight as I believe we are now on track to prevail in phase one.

“And so I say to you finally if you can keep going in the way that you have kept going so far if you can help protect our NHS to save lives, and if we as a country can show the same spirit of optimism and energy shown by Captain Tom Moore, who turns 100 this week, if we can show the same spirit of unity and determination as we have all shown in the past six weeks then I have absolutely no doubt that we will beat it together, we will come through this all the faster, and the United Kingdom will emerge stronger than ever before.”

This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word from headline

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