Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday made his first public appearance since being hospitalised with coronavirus three weeks ago, saying Britain was beginning to “turn the tide” on the outbreak but rejecting growing calls to ease a nationwide lockdown.
In a statement in Downing Street marking his return to work, looking thinner and with his trademark blond hair a little longer, Johnson apologised for being away “for much longer than I would have liked”.
He thanked the British people for heeding a month of stay-at-home orders, which have helped stem the spread of COVID-19, although more than 20,000 people have already died from the virus.
Their efforts had ensured the state-run National Health Service was not overwhelmed, “and that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide”, the 55-year-old said.
Johnson pledged on March 19 that Britain could “turn the tide on coronavirus within 12 weeks” but only if people heeded advice to avoid social contact.
But while acknowledging the concerns of many businesses and increasing numbers of MPs in his own Conservative party about the economic toll, Johnson warned that now was not the time to ease the lockdown.
“I know it is tough and I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can,” the prime minister said.
“But I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak, a huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.”