UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks and takes questions during a press conference in Downing Street regarding the coronavirus outbreak, on March 9, 2020. in London, England.
Alberto Pezzali – WPA Pool | Getty Images
Britain has officially passed the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday.
“I can confirm today that for the first time we are past the peak of this disease,” Johnson said in his first appearance at the government’s daily briefing since returning to work after falling ill with Covid-19.
“We’re past the peak and we’re on the downward slope.”
Johnson did not however lay out a roadmap for the U.K. to eventually lift its restrictions on public life, something which countries elsewhere in Europe have been gradually doing.
“We will be saying a lot more next week and in the coming weeks about how and when we propose to unlock the various parts of the U.K. economy,” Johnson said.
Britain has been on lockdown for almost six weeks now, with nonessential shops shuttered across the country. There have been calls for the government to map out an exit strategy to mitigate the toll the restrictions have taken on the economy.
“I think the economy will bounce back strongly,” Johnson insisted. “I think that this government will want to encourage that bounce back in all kinds of ways.”
Thursday’s briefing included a video presentation explaining that the U.K.’s so-called “R rate” has fallen below 1. The R rate is used by epidemiologists and governments to determine the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual.
It is meant to give experts an indication of the extent to which the disease is being spread, or reproduced, among a population. The higher the R rate, the higher the risk of the virus spreading exponentially.
Johnson has only recently returned to work after himself recovering from Covid-19. His government has been heavily criticized over its handling of the health crisis, with some claiming it failed to adequately distribute personal protective equipment and scale up testing.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out an ambitious target of reaching 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of April, but just 52,000 tests were carried out on Tuesday. However, the U.K. appears to be much closer to that aim now, with 81,611 people having been tested on Wednesday.
The country’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 26,711, Johnson said in the daily briefing, an increase of 674 from the previous day. More than 171,000 people have tested positive for the disease.