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Speaking in Downing Street, the PM said: “I can confirm today that for the first time we are past the peak of this disease.
“We are past the peak and on the downward slope. And we have so many reasons to be hopeful for the long term.”
The government will next week reveal plans for lifting the lockdown, he said, adding the crisis was “as though we have been going through some huge Alpine tunnel.
“And we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us.”
He went on to say the country must try to avoid “lasting economic damage” and that he would soon begin easing restrictions.
He said: “What you are going to get next week is really a road map, a menu of options – the dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic, what the data is really saying, and we are getting in a lot more data every day now and in the course of the next few days.”
He also confirmed that the number of people who have died in hospitals, care homes and the community after contracting coronavirus had risen by 674 in 24 hours – bringing the working total to 26,711 – and that the government had carried out 81,611 tests yesterday, edging closer to health secretary Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 daily.
Johnson also warned that the UK must be careful to avoid an influx of new cases by rushing back to normal, as he repeated the “five tests” the government has set for lifting the lockdown.
He said: “And so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain.
“And so, to avoid that disaster, our fifth and final test is that nothing we do should lift the R – or the reproduction rate – of that disease back above one.”
He said he “mourned for every life lost” to the disease and also the “economic damage the country is sustaining”.
Opening the door to a “bad” second coronavirus peak would do “lasting” damage to the UK economy, he added.
“That’s why we have to calibrate our measures so carefully and make sure we not only unlock the economy gradually, but also find ways of continuing to suppress the disease, and possibly find new, more ingenious, ways of suppressing the disease,” he said.
“That’s what we are working on now and you’ll be seeing a lot more of that, I hope, next week.”
The PM, who himself was hospitalised with the disease, also paid tribute to the NHS.
He said: “At no stage has our NHS been overwhelmed. No patient went without a ventilator; no patient was deprived of intensive care; we have five of the seven projected Nightingale wards.
“It is thanks to that massive collective effort to shield the NHS that we avoided an uncontrollable and catastrophic epidemic where the reasonable worst-case scenario was 500,000 deaths.”