LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged his lockdown-weary nation to be patient Monday, arguing that easing social and economic restrictions too soon would create a second deadly spike of coronavirus infections.
On his first day back at work in three weeks after a bout of COVID-19 that left him dangerously ill, Johnson said Britain had reached the moment of “maximum risk” in its outbreak.
Speaking outside his 10 Downing St. office, Johnson said the country was reaching “the end of the first phase of this conflict” but warned that a quick end to a lockdown due to last at least until May 7 was not in sight.
“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 (health system),” said Johnson.
The 55-year-old leader appeared thinner but better-rested than when he was last seen in public early this month.
As of Monday, Britain had recorded 21,092 deaths among people hospitalized with COVID-19, the fifth country in the world to surpass 20,000 deaths. Thousands more are thought to have died in nursing homes during the pandemic.
Despite the death toll, Johnson’s government is under mounting pressure to set out a blueprint for easing the lockdown that has sharply curtailed business and daily life since March 23.
The government is paying 80% of the salaries of almost 4 million people who have been furloughed by their employers, more than 1.5 million Britons have applied for welfare benefits in the past month, and the government’s economic watchdog says the economy could shrink by 35% by June 1.