Boris Johnson has promised there will be no social distancing measures in place by this time next year.
Delivering his Conservative conference speech to a near-empty room due to infection controls, the prime minister said he has had “more than enough” of coronavirus, which he described as a “plague” and an “alien invader”.
But having previously said he hopes for “normality by November” this year, Johnson told the Tory faithful that at least next year’s autumn conference would be free of social distancing.
“With the help of weekly and almost daily improvements in the medicine and the science, we will ensure that next time we meet it will be face-to-face and cheek-by-jowl,” he said.
Johnson used his wide-ranging speech to set out a vision for the country in 2030, insisting that coronavirus must be a “trigger” for economic and social change on the scale of the “new Jerusalem” vision of the post-Second World War years.
More immediately, the PM pledged to turn “generation rent into generation buy” with his plans for 95% mortgages for first-time buyers who would not otherwise be able to afford a deposit.
And he insisted the government would proceed with plans to reform the “sclerotic” planning system, despite widespread Tory concerns about a so-called “mutant” algorithm determining where houses are built.
Johnson said offshore wind would be powering every home in the country within 10 years, helped by a £160m investment to upgrade ports and factories for building turbines, insisting that “as Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind”.
The PM also hinted at the introduction of an insurance system to solve the social care crisis, quoting Churchill as he promised to bring “the magic of averages to the rescue of millions”.
“It isn’t enough just to go back to normal, we have lost too much, we have mourned too many, we have been through too much hardship to settle back for the status quo ante, to think life can go on as it did before the plague,” the PM said.
Amid Tory unease about his performance, Johnson sought again to dispel rumours that he is suffering from “long Covid”, following a bout with the virus that left him in intensive care.
“I have read a lot of nonsense recently about how my own bout of Covid has somehow robbed me of my mojo,” he said.
“And, of course this is self-evident drivel.
“The kind of seditious propaganda that you would expect from people who don’t want this government to succeed.
“And I could refute these critics of my athletic abilities in any way that they want, arm wrestling, leg wrestling… you name it.
“And yet I have to admit that the reason I had such a nasty experience with the disease is that although I was superficially in the pink of health when I caught it I had a very common underlying condition – my friends, I was too fat. And I have since lost 26 pounds.”
Quoting 90s pop band M People, the PM went on: “And I am going to continue that diet because you have got to search for the hero inside yourself and hope that individual is considerably slimmer.”
Responding, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The British people needed to hear the prime minister set out how he and his government will get a grip of the crisis. Instead we got the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead.”