Boris Johnson said the UK is at the point of “maximum risk” in its battle with coronavirus, as he acknowledged frustrations over the continuing lockdown but insisted he would not risk a second peak in the disease by relaxing restrictions too quickly.
As the Prime Minister returned to take charge of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis following his recovery from Covid-19, he said there are signs that the UK is “passing through the peak” of the outbreak and “coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict”.
But he said it is also the moment of maximum risk because of the danger that people would look at the “apparent success” and “go easy” on social distancing measures.
More than 20,000 people have already died with the disease in hospitals, with the true death toll including care homes and other settings likely to be far higher.
He said: “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.”
The Prime Minister indicated the lifting of the lockdown, which is expected to be reviewed on May 7, would be a gradual process and promised the “maximum possible transparency” with efforts to seek consensus across party lines.
He said: “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.”
Racing in Britain has been on hold since since the meetings behind closed doors at Wetherby and Taunton on March 17, with the British Horseracing Authority working on plans for a resumption once the Government gives its approval.
However, trainer Mark Johnston thinks the BHA should adopt a more proactive stance with Government towards the return of racing and “state our intentions” as to a possible timetable.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The BHA has done a huge amount of work since the suspension of racing for a resumption behind closed doors, looking at all the risks involved and planning to cover all Government guidelines and all eventualities.
“I think they’re very close to, or probably at the point, where they can state the intention to return to racing behind closed doors in as risk averse manner as possible under the circumstances.
“I think they should be telling the Government when it is the intention to resume, based on some trigger like the lifting of lockdown – that seems the most obvious next stage in things.
“This is not to suggest to Government that we are a special case or that we can ignore Government’s position, but frankly the Government has far more to do than write our plans for us, so I believe our industry must look after itself, it must make a robust plan for the resumption and state our intentions.
“That gives Government an opportunity to, at the most extreme case veto it, which we hope they wouldn’t do, but to question any areas of the plan that concern them.”
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