UK Politics: Returning Johnson 'refuses to risk' second virus peak

Johnson is under pressure to outline a lockdown exit strategy
Johnson has warned of the dangers of a second virus peak

On his first day back at work, PM warned that prematurely easing lockdown restrictions could risk a second peak in the outbreak. Tradefair brings you the latest from UK politics...

I refuse to throw away the sacrifice of the British people...and risk a second peak."

- Boris Johnson

On his first day back in Downing Street after recovering from coronavirus, Boris Johnson has warned of the dangers of lifting the UK's current lockdown measures too soon.

The Conservative leader, who spent a week in hospital and three nights in an intensive care unit after being diagnosed with Covid-19, thanked the British people for the sacrifices they have made during the pandemic.

Amid growing calls for the government to outline how and when it plans to ease the lockdown, Johnson reiterated the warning that lifting restrictions prematurely could lead to a second peak in the outbreak.

No risks

The prime minister began his statement outside Number 10 by thanking the British people and "everyone who has stepped up" in the fight against the virus.

He called the pandemic the "biggest single challenge" the country has faced since World War II, but also stressed that "we are making progress".

The government has faced criticism for some elements of its response to the outbreak, particularly testing and the availability of protective equipment for healthcare professionals. It is also coming under mounting pressure to devise a lockdown exit strategy, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and various business groups warning of the severe impact the current constraints could have on the economy.

Johnson said he wants to "get the economy moving as fast as I can", but added: "I refuse to throw away the sacrifice of the British people ... and risk a second peak."

Regarding any specific plans to adjust or ease the current lockdown policy, the prime minister insisted it's not possible for the government to provide details at the moment.

"We simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow, or even when, those changes will be made," he said.

"Clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days. These decisions will be taken with the maximum possible transparency."

Grim warnings

Growing pressure to get the economy up and running again is one of the biggest challenges Johnson is likely to face on his return to Downing Street, with recent projections underlining the extreme impact this health crisis could have if the current measures remain in place for much longer.

The OBR, the official forecaster for the Treasury, warned that a nationwide lockdown running for a full three months could result in the economy shrinking by a record 35% and unemployment rising by two million.

There is growing concern in the private sector about the outlook for firms in the coming year and beyond. A tracking survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD) showed that business leaders' net confidence in the economy has fallen to its lowest level since the study began in 2016.

Jon Geldart, director general of the IoD, said: "Over the last few days the clamour from our members for information on how, and when, coronavirus-related restrictions will begin to lift has increased substantially. Directors from all parts of the UK need to make plans for riding out this tempest, but they can't get very far if they have no idea what will be happening in a few weeks' time."

He added that company directors want to know how they can "get going again safely" to "get the economy off life support".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to give an update on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the House of Commons this afternoon.

Some countries - including Spain and Italy, the worst-affected nations in Europe - have started to ease their lockdown measures, suggesting their governments are confident they have passed the peak of the virus outbreak.

These positive indications have boosted stock markets, with the FTSE 100 rising by 1.4% in morning trading.

Asian markets were also up on Monday, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gaining nearly 1.9% and Japan's Nikkei 225 rising by 2.7%.

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