UK Politics: PM says 'there is such a thing as society' as thousands of workers return to NHS

The PM insisted 'there is such a thing as society'
Johnson paid tribute to NHS staff and other key workers
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The coronavirus outbreak has led to some 20,000 former NHS workers returning to the health service, prompting Boris Johnson to say "there is such a thing as society". Tradefair brings you the latest from UK politics...

The coronavirus crisis has already proved...there really is such a thing as society."

- Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has insisted "there really is such a thing as society" as approximately 20,000 former NHS staff return to work to help fight the coronavirus outbreak. His words contradict a famous quote from former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Johnson made the comment in a video posted online. He is currently self-isolating after testing positive for the virus at the end of last week.

There are now more than 19,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, with at least 1,228 deaths.

'Amazing' numbers

Johnson started his video update by stressing that the government's policy of telling people to stay at home, thereby delaying the spread of the virus and reducing pressure on the NHS, has not changed.

Public transport statistics suggest the social distancing rules and constraints on public movement are working, with train use down by about 95% and bus passenger numbers down by 75%.

The prime minister offered his thanks to the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, supermarket employees and other workers who are helping to keep the country running, as well as the 20,000 former NHS staff who are coming back to help the health service cope with the pressure it's currently under.

"It's a most amazing thing," he said. "And that's, of course, in addition to the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to help us get through this crisis.

"We are going to do it, we are going to do it together. One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved, is that there really is such a thing as society."

The outlook

Johnson's comments followed an update from Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, who said businesses and members of the public may have to wait up to six months before life in the UK returns to something like normality.

She stressed that the extreme lockdown measures currently in place won't necessarily have to continue for a full six months, but the country has to take a "responsible" approach, with any reduction in social distancing measures happening gradually.

Dr Harries warned that it could be "quite dangerous" for society to shift suddenly from almost total lockdown to life as normal.

"If we stop [social distancing] then all of our efforts will be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak," she said.

"So over time, probably over the next six months, we will have a three-week review. We will see where we are going."

Discussing the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19, the new illness caused by coronavirus, Dr Harries said it's likely the figures will get worse over the next week or two. Scientists and medical experts will then look at whether the social distancing measures have been successful in reducing the peak of the outbreak.

'Rewriting the rulebook'

Over the course of just a few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has had a transformative effect on the British economy.

Neil Shearing, group chief economist at Capital Economics, noted that this health crisis is "rewriting the economic rulebook", with central banks pushing monetary policy "to the limits" and governments playing a much more active role in the economy.

"In the UK, large tracts of the railways have been temporarily nationalised. Support for the airlines in the UK and elsewhere may soon follow," he said.

"Government guarantees for loans and subsidies for jobs have expanded on a vast scale. The state has emerged as the spender of last resort and the backstop to banks and otherwise solvent firms."

As far as the stock markets are concerned, there have been huge falls recorded all over the world, punctuated by occasional rallies as investors respond to economic stimulus measures.

The FTSE 100 witnessed three consecutive days of gains last week, partly in reaction to the $2 trillion (£1.61 trillion) financial aid package approved in the US, but dropped again on Friday.

London's blue chip index tumbled a further 2.7% at the open on Monday, before regaining some ground during morning trading, leaving it 0.7% down going into the afternoon.

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