Coronavirus: Boris Johnson says crisis will remain 'bumpy until Christmas and possibly beyond'

‘This could be a very tough winter for all of us,’ says PM

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 05 October 2020 15:40 BST
Boris Johnson warns crisis will remain 'bumpy until Christmas and possibly beyond'

Boris Johnson has warned that the coronavirus crisis will be “bumpy” through to Christmas and possibly beyond, but insisted: “This is the only way to do it.”

The prime minister said he recognised public “fatigue” with lockdown restrictions and accepted that people were “furious” over the limits on their social and economic lives.

And he warned: “This could be a very tough winter for all of us, but there is a way through. If we follow this balanced approach, we can do it and do it together.”

He urged the public to behave “fearlessly but with common sense” in following guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson admitted he was frustrated with shortcomings in the government’s test and trace system.

But he said he was hopeful that the “scientific equation” would shift within the coming weeks and months, with the discovery of viable vaccines and treatments for coronavirus.

Asked if the pandemic could drag on for years to come, with areas of the country going repeatedly in and out of lockdown, he said: “No, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Mr Johnson said it was “too early to say” whether local restrictions are working in areas such as Oldham, where infections have doubled despite the imposition of additional measures over the past six weeks.

The scientific advice was that it was necessary to “wait and see” whether his “whack-a-mole” strategy – which has seen one-third of the population put under local restrictions – was bringing down the R rate of transmission, he said.

“I appreciate the fatigue that people are experiencing, but we have to work together, follow the guidance and get the virus down, whilst keeping the economy moving. That’s the balance we are trying to strike,” said Mr Johnson.

“They are furious with me and they are furious with the government, but I’ve got to tell you in all candour, it’s going to continue to be bumpy through to Christmas, it may even be bumpy beyond, but this is the only way to do it.”

He added: “If you ask me: do I think things can be significantly different by Christmas? Yes, I do, and we’re working flat-out to achieve that. 

“But be in no doubt that it is still very possible that there are bumpy, bumpy months ahead.

“This could be a very tough winter for all of us – we’ve got to face that fact.”

The prime minister said he believed the Covid-19 situation will look “radically different” come the spring.

Boris Johnson said: “If you talk to the scientists they’re all virtually unanimous that by the spring things will be radically different and we’ll be in a different world because that is the normal cycle of a pandemic like this.

“But I also think, if you look at where we are, so many things are better.”

Mr Johnson said new treatments were now available, adding: “We will find all sorts of ways, I’m absolutely sure, particularly through mass testing programmes, of changing the way that we tackle this virus.”

However, he conceded that the delivery of a vaccine could not be guaranteed this year, saying: “I don’t want to get people’s hopes up on the vaccine unnecessarily, because I think there’s a good chance but it’s not certain.”

Admitting his frustrations with the test and trace system, Mr Johnson said: “I’m not going to claim that the service is perfect, because it isn’t.”

He said both demand and capacity had “massively increased” since he made the promise to return test results within 24 hours.

“Yes, it’s not perfect but it has made a huge difference to our ability to see where the virus is and where it is spreading, in which groups it is most prevalent and it is helping us a huge amount,” he said.

“It is not perfect, I’m not going to claim it’s perfect. Am I frustrated with it? Yes, of course I’m frustrated with it. Am I going to blame NHS Test and Trace… of course I’m not.

“I take full responsibility for the service, by international comparators it is really very, very good indeed.”

He repeated his promise to ramp up antigen testing to 500,000 a day by the end of the month.

Mr Johnson appeared to accept that chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out cut-price restaurant scheme in August may have helped fuel the resurgence of the Covid virus.

“It was very important to keep those jobs going,” he said. “Now, insofar as that scheme may have helped to spread the virus, then obviously we need to counteract that and we need to counteract that with the discipline and the measures that we’re proposing.

“I hope you understand the balance we’re trying to strike.”

And he appeared to blame members of the public for the breakdown in social distancing seen in many city centres in England as pubs close simultaneously at 10pm under his curfew rule.

“People just need to follow the guidance," he said.

“Obviously it makes no sense if, having followed the guidance for all the time in the pub they then pour out into the street and hobnob in such a way as to spread the virus.”

Mr Johnson said he took “full responsibility” for all the government’s actions in response to the pandemic.

But Labour health spokesperson Alex Norris said: “Boris Johnson had the chance to map out a serious strategy to improve public confidence in the government’s handling of this crisis. 

“Instead he waffled and ducked every question. His serial incompetence is holding Britain back.” 

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Johnson’s admission that the winter will be “tough” would leave people “rightly worried about their loved ones”. 

“Sadly, as has become all too common with this prime minister, there was a lot of bluster but little in the way of answers,” she said.

“It is now all the more important for the government to take responsibility for its failures and deliver a comprehensive strategy to test, trace and isolate every case of coronavirus to keep people safe and prevent new surges.

“It is also past time the prime minister shared his concerns with the chancellor. To protect livelihoods in the months ahead, we need to see an extension of the furlough scheme, protection for excluded groups, and new investment to create jobs – especially in the green economy.”

Mr Johnson said it was “balderdash” to suggest that he was still suffering from the effects of coronavirus.

“No, I had a nasty bout, no question,” he told Andrew Marr.

Pressed on whether he had “long” Covid, which causes debilitating symptoms such as fatigue and breathlessness for months after the virus has cleared the patient’s body, Mr Johnson said: “No, no, not in my case.

“This is total tittle-tattle, it is drivel. It is not tittle-tattle, it is balderdash and nonsense.

“I can tell you I’m fitter than several butchers’ dogs.”

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