Sat, September 25, 2021

in-focus

Johnson says Britain 'past the peak' of the epidemic


LONDON - Making his first appearance at a news conference in over a month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that Britain was "past the peak" and "on the downward slope" of the first phase of the pandemic. He also promised that next week, his government would begin to describe how the country might slowly loosen its strict lockdown.

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Johnson said the coming guidelines for restarting the economy, reopening schools and providing for safe travel and workplaces would not contain specific target dates. Those would be determined by how quickly the number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths continue to drop.

The prime minister said the use of face masks might be part of the new strategy, though in the past his scientific advisers had questioned their effectiveness.

Johnson stressed the country must not "risk a second spike" of the virus. "Nothing we do should lift the R - or reproduction rate - back above one," he said, introducing a short video that explained the concept.

Scientists believe the coronavirus, without any countermeasures, allows one person to infect, on average another three, giving it a value of R equals 3. After six weeks of lockdown, the R number in Britain now is between 0.6 and 0.9, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said at the news conference.

Asked if his own hospitalization has changed his approach to tackling the crisis, Johnson said: "I was very, very lucky. I had wonderful careers, I had wonderful treatment, and let's be frank: tragically, thousands of people have been less fortunate than I was. And that's why the objective of this government is to save lives across the country."

He said that objective was there at the beginning of that crisis and remains "unchanged."

After weeks of sickness and recovery - and after the birth of his son by his fiancee Carrie Symonds on Wednesday - the 55-year-old Johnson looked vigorous enough at the lectern but sounded a little breathy, and he lost his way once in a long mixed metaphor about peaks, tunnels, lights and pastures.

Johnson has been absent during almost all the 26,771 deaths he reported Thursday. 

On Wednesday, the government began to include in its daily figures those who have died of covid-19 outside hospital settings, including those in nursing homes, hospices and the community.

The revised numbers mean that Britain's fatalities of the virus are now the third highest in the world, following those of the United States and Italy. If Britain continues on its trajectory, it will soon have the highest death toll in Europe.

Asked about the soaring toll in Britain, Johnson said comparing international data is "bedeviled with difficulties." He said, "The only real comparison is going to be possible at the end of the epidemic when you look at total excess deaths."

Johnson added, "Broadly speaking, we did the right thing at the right time." Critics have said the government lost valuable time in January while distracted on Brexit and was slow to order a lockdown.

Whitty, the chief medical officer, said the world was "nowhere near the end of this epidemic" and urged, "Let's not go charging in to who's won and who's lost."

In his remarks, Johnson came as close as anyone in the government has to apologizing for logistical challenges on testing and getting protective equipment to the front lines, calling the delivery of gowns and visors to workers "a knotty and infuriating" challenge of supply, demand and logistics. He called the testing program frustrating.

Britain's mortality figures are thought to underestimate the situation as they only include those who have tested positive with the coronavirus and that such testing has largely taken place in British hospitals and not in nursing homes.

 

Published : May 01, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Karla Adam, William Booth · WORLD, EUROPE