Boris Johnson arrived back at Number 10 last night to resume charge of Britain’s fight against coronavirus and plan for a loosening of lockdown.
The Prime Minister will chair the daily 9.15am pandemic ‘war cabinet’ before hosting a second strategy meeting in the evening to sketch out the baby steps for easing restrictions.
Allies last night claimed he is keen to ‘modify’ certain social distancing curbs if the scientific guidance affords him the wriggle room.
Mr Johnson was whisked through the rear entrance of Downing Street at around 6.30 yesterday evening without fanfare, travelling in a humble Volkswagen people carrier rather than his ministerial Jaguar and police motorcade.
Exclusive MailOnline pictures show him greeting a security guard at the gate before heading inside the building flanked by his personal protection.
After 15 days recuperating from his own coronavirus battle at Chequers with pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds, Mr Johnson has told colleagues he is ‘raring to go’.
His return relieves Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab of command after three weeks deputising for the stricken premier.
The PM comes back to Westminster facing restlessness on both Tory and Labour benches for the government to publish a lockdown exit strategy, as well as splits emerging in his own cabinet.
Boris Johnson has arrived back in Number 10 ahead of his return to work tomorrow following his battle with coronavirus, MailOnline can reveal
Mr Johnson was flanked by his security detail as he headed into the rear entrance of Downing Street
The Prime Minister was pictured entering via the back of Downing Street where he smiled to a security guard before heading inside
He returns to Westminster facing restlessness on both Tory and Labour benches for the government to publish a lockdown exit strategy
Timeline: Boris’s battle with coronavirus
March 26: Boris Johnson announces he has tested positive for coronavirus in a Twitter video and continues working in self-isolation from his Number 11 flat.
April 5: Downing Street says the PM has been taken to St Thomas’ Hospital as a precaution after displaying persistent symptoms.
April 6: Mr Johnson is moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit after his condition worsened, but does not require ventilation. Dominic Raab begins to deputise for the PM.
April 9: He was moved out of intensive care and back on to the normal ward.
April 11: The PM was discharged from hospital. He thanked NHS staff for saving his life in a video recorded from Downing Street before heading to Chequers with his pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds.
April 26: Mr Johnson arrives back in Number 10 as he prepares to return to work.
Mr Johnson, 55, was discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital in London two weeks ago after spending five nights inside including three in intensive care.
He made a brief stop-off at Number 10 to record a message to the nation – where he thanked NHS staff for saving his life – before heading to his grace-and-favour country home in Buckinghamshire.
There, he has steadily been increasing his workload by making calls with ministers, looking through his papers and hosting Zoom video conferences.
But his return to Downing Street, much earlier than some experts had predicted given the life-threatening severity of his illness, puts his hand firmly back on the tiller as the cabinet faces tough decisions over whether to ease the lockdown.
Mr Johnson is reportedly bullish about easing some of the restrictive measures and could do so early if given the green light by his scientific advisers.
An ally of the PM told the Telegraph: ‘May 7 is the day when the government is legally obliged to review the lockdown measures but if Boris wants to change the restrictions earlier than that, or at least announce something before that, then he could go sooner.’
Early measures are likely to include encouraging the construction industry to get back to work, following scientific advice that the virus spreads much less effectively outdoors.
The issue is set to be discussed at a meeting of the PM’s coronavirus strategy group Monday evening. However, a government source cautioned that any easing of the lockdown would be very gradual to avoid a deadly second wave of infection.
A further 413 fatalities were reported yesterday – the lowest daily rise this month – bringing the total death toll to 20,732.
The number of cases also rose by 4,463 to 152,840 following 29,058 tests, a figure the re-energised PM will be keen to ramp up to hit the government’s 100,000 target by the end of April.
The Prime Minister returned to work as:
- Officials said arrivals at ports and airports may face 14-day quarantine;
- Just 29,000 virus tests are being carried out a day – far below the 100,000 target promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock;
- Mr Raab said an effective vaccine may not be available until next year;
- The Foreign Secretary also hinted that children may go back to school part-time at first;
- A leading government adviser dismissed concerns about the PM’s aide Dominic Cummings attending top scientific meetings;
- Professor Neil Ferguson also torpedoed the idea of allowing young people to resume normal life, saying it would cause 100,000 deaths;
- Environment Secretary George Eustice said furloughed workers would be encouraged to take jobs picking fruit and veg;
- Deaths in other European countries fell as EU leaders prepared to ease their lockdowns.
Mr Johnson was whisked through the rear entrance of Downing Street at around 6.30 this evening without fanfare, travelling in a humble Volkswagen people carrier rather than his ministerial Jaguar and police motorcade
Mr Johnson steps out of the dark minibus before heading inside one Downing Street’s vast network of inter-connected buildings
What’s top of the PM’s in-tray?
LOCKDOWN: Most of the Cabinet want to ease measures next week, but acting too fast could lead to a second deadly wave. The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies will provide fresh analysis this week.
TESTING: Health Secretary Matt Hancock has set a target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by Thursday. Barely 29,000 are currently being carried out. The PM will want to avoid an embarrassing flop.
MASKS: Ministers are due to rule this week on whether to issue guidance to the public to wear face coverings in offices, factories and shops. Health officials are nervous it could hit NHS supplies.
ECONOMY: With GDP in freefall and new Universal Credit claims topping 1.4million, ministers are under pressure to spell out how much the lockdown will cost.
CHINA: Some MPs want the PM to axe Huawei from the 5G network. But China could hit back – and it’s the source of much of the PPE needed on the NHS front line.
Ministers are close to ditching the ‘Stay at Home’ message in favour of a slightly less restrictive one, the source added.
They said: ‘We are moving on from Stay at Home. But that does not mean we are anywhere near going back to normal. We are all going to have to adapt to a new normal.
‘The Prime Minister’s big concern is avoiding a second peak, which would require a second lockdown. He is clear that we cannot afford to do anything which would mean losing control of the rate of infection because that would mean more people dying.
‘It would also mean a return to the lockdown, which would be damaging to public trust and terrible for business.’
Number 10 did not confirm if Mr Johnson will front tomorrow’s daily coronavirus press briefing.
Nor did they reveal if he will face off against Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs on Wednesday.
Sir Keir has been urging the government to publish a road map out of lockdown, writing a letter to the PM calling for ‘an adult conversation about what comes next’.
Grumblings are also echoing through the Conservative ranks, with six Tory donors and a slew of MPs demanding restrictions be loosened.
Wealthy Conservative backer John Cauldwell, the founder of Phones4U, writes in today’s Mail: ‘Proposing a phased lifting of restrictions based on geography, he writes: ‘I worry that if the lockdown is not lifted soon, we may lose some industries forever.’
There are growing signs the public is getting agitated with life under lockdown amid a slight increase in travel and scenes of people pouring into parks in the warm weather.
In Mr Johnson’s absence, ministers have displayed a united front in refusing to fuel speculation of when the country can take baby steps out of lockdown.
Mr Raab, whose role as first secretary saw him fill in for Mr Johnson, this morning scolded ‘irresponsible’ demands for the government to sketch out an exit strategy.
Raab warns UK will have to adjust to ‘new normal’
Dominic Raab speaking yesterday
Dominic Raab has braced Britain to prepare for a ‘new normal’ with social distancing curbs in place for the long-haul.
The Foreign Secretary, who has been deputising in Boris Johnson’s absence, said elements of the current lockdown would remain for ‘some time’.
He dampened hopes of an imminent loosening of restrictions by refusing to be drawn on an exit strategy at this ‘delicate and dangerous’ phase in the pandemic.
The Prime Minister will relieve Mr Raab of command as he resumes charge of government today – when he will draw up plans to gradually get the UK moving again.
But although the PM is reportedly bullish about lifting the restraints when the science allows, Mr Raab levelled with the public any relaxation would not herald a return to pre-lockdown life.
Yesterday, he told Sky News: ‘What we have said very clearly is we have set out the five tests for what the next transitional phase will look like. It won’t just be going back it will be a new normal with social distancing measures adapted to areas which are currently closed off and we will make sure we are guided by the scientific evidence.’
Mr Johnson will also return to find his cabinet split over how to map a path out of the lockdown after a source insisted: ‘Boris is tightening his grip. You are going to see much greater clarity, energy and purpose now.’
A survey by the Institute of Directors shows that confidence among company bosses is at the lowest level recorded, with 70 per cent pessimistic about the outlook for the economy.
IoD chief Jon Geldart said there was a growing clamour for information about ‘how and when’ the lockdown would be eased to allow firms to ‘make plans for riding out this tempest’.
He added: ‘It’s in everyone’s interests to get the economy off life support when it’s safe to do so. Business leaders know this will not happen all in one go, but that’s why it’s even more important to tell them what they need to prepare for.’
Mr Raab insisted the ‘Stay at Home’ message was still needed and said it would ‘create more uncertainty in the public’s mind’ if ministers started talking about how it might be eased.
But behind the scenes, senior figures are now working on a new message.
A ‘quad’ of senior ministers, comprising Mr Raab, Mr Hancock, Michael Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been holding a daily strategy meeting at 6pm to discuss ‘the next phase’ of the battle against the virus.
Election guru Isaac Levido has been tasked with devising a slogan, which could be unveiled within days following focus group testing.
Mr Johnson will today begin holding one-to-one talks with each member of the Cabinet to discuss developments which occurred during his absence.
Mr Johnson has not been involved directly in government decisions since he was taken into a central London hospital and spent three days in intensive care.
But he gradually increased his workload and Mr Raab yesterday dismissed suggestions he would only be back part time initially.
He told Sky News: ‘He’s in really good spirits. He’s taken the time and taken the doctors’ advice to rebuild his strength.
‘He’s going to be back at work full time, properly at the helm. And as you can imagine with the Prime Minister, he’s raring to go.’
NHS boss warns crowds enjoying the outdoors could spark second coronavirus peak despite dramatic drop in daily death toll to 413 – the lowest figure this month
By Henry Martin and Jack Maidment, deputy political editor for MailOnline
The UK’s coronavirus death toll increased by 413 yesterday – the lowest recorded this month – as NHS bosses said social distancing is ‘paying off’ but warned breaking the rules now could result in a second peak of the deadly disease.
Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, said the latest government statistics showed there had been a ‘slight uptick’ in the number of people using their cars and going outside in recent days.
He told the daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference that the nation needed to ‘remind ourselves that this has been a really tough four weeks and we don’t want to lose the benefits’ which have resulted from people staying at home.
Mr Powis said nobody could be ‘absolutely confident’ that the UK is now firmly on a downward trajectory as he urged Britons to continue to adhere to draconian lockdown measures.
The 413 new fatalities represents a significant drop on Saturday’s UK figures – and are also lower than previous Sundays, which typically see a lower toll than weekdays.
The latest Downing Street data showed there has been a slight increase in the number of people going outside in recent days
Transport use overall remains relatively flat but the number of vehicles on the nations has rose slightly which has spooked the government’s health expert
Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, said the latest government statistics showed there had been a ‘slight uptick’ in the number of people using their cars and going outside in recent days
Government adviser says gradual easing of lockdown could see death toll hit 100,000
Prof Ferguson speaking on the UnHerd podcast
The number of deaths from coronavirus could reach 100,000 in the UK by the end of this year if a gradual lockdown is implemented with only the elderly shielded, Professor Neil Ferguson warned yesterday.
The Imperial College epidemiologist said it was impossible to send the young and healthy back to work while keeping the vulnerable in lockdown without seeing a huge increase in deaths.
The academic – whose previous death toll predictions prompted the PM to lock Britain down – warned that no country has successfully shielded those most at risk from the virus while allowing the least vulnerable to continue as normal.
Professor Ferguson said some degree of social isolation will continue to be required until a vaccine to the killer bug is released, which Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today said was unlikely to happen until 2021.
He was asked if young people could be allowed out of lockdown if the tough measures have suppressed the infection rate enough and the Government has increased NHS capacity to a sufficient degree.
Professor Ferguson told UnHerd: ‘In practical terms, you would require a very high level of effective shielding for that to be a viable strategy.
‘If you just achieve 80 per cent shielding – and 80 per cent reduction in infection risk in those groups – we still project that you would get more than 100,000 deaths this year from that kind of strategy.
‘The most vulnerable people are also the people who most need care and most need interaction with the health system and are least able to be truly isolated.’
But the government is still swatting away calls to publish a road map out of lockdown, with Dominic Raab admonishing both Labour and Tory figures demanding an exit strategy.
Environment Secretary George Eustice remained equally tight-lipped at this afternoon’s briefing, where he confirmed the number of deaths have now hit 20,732.
The cabinet minister also said cases have risen by 4,463 to 153,840 after 29,058 tests were performed the day before – a figure which will set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall after Matt Hancock vowed to hit 100,000 tests by the end of April.
There have been growing signs in recent days that some Britons may have grown restless with the state of lockdown.
Official data shows there are more people using the nation’s roads while photographs suggest more people are venturing outside to use the UK’s green spaces.
But Mr Powis said this afternoon that everyone must continue to stay at home as much as possible – or risk a second surge in coronavirus cases.
He said: ‘Over the last few weeks of course we have seen because those social distancing measures have been adhered to that those curbs have started to change and as I showed you a few minutes ago we are now beginning to see declines, particularly in London and yes deaths are now either plateauing around the country or beginning to decline.
‘But I should emphasise those benefits have only occurred not by luck but because people have complied with the instructions we have all been given and they have followed the science. The science of this is quite straight forward.’
Mr Powis said the UK’s efforts ‘hard though they might be, have begun to pay off’.
But he warned Britain cannot yet be totally certain of its downward trajectory and added: ‘But of course the other point to make is it will only continue to pay off if we continue to keep social distancing and we continue to comply with those messages.
‘Because of course my fear, as the fear of all of us is, is that those curves won’t continue to be on a downward trend but will start to go in an upward trend and we are not at the point that any of us can be absolutely confident that that is not going to be the case.
‘We want to avoid a second peak, we want to avoid a rise and so I can’t emphasise enough that this is not the time to say actually we have done a good job we need to stop complying with out social distancing instructions and the government guidance.
‘This is exactly the time to keep that up and that is why when I showed you the transport graphs and curves earlier, that slight uptick in motor vehicles, that slight uptick in the use of Apple Maps, we need to keep a close eye on that.
‘We all need to remind ourselves that this has been a really tough four weeks and we don’t want to lose the benefits that have come from this. We need to keep going.’
Courtesy DAILY MAIL