The prime minister switched tack again, highlighting “tough times ahead in keeping this virus under control and tough times economically”.
“I think by the middle of next year, we will be well on the way passed it,” he said on a visit to a GP surgery in East London.
However, only seven days ago, he unveiled a plan which he argued would allow for a “more significant return to normality” by Christmas.
The prime minister was also asked to acknowledge any blunders he had made in his handling of the pandemic, but replied: “It would be invidious to single out any particular mistake.”
Just seven days ago, Mr Johnson had suggested social distancing rules could be relaxed further within a few months.
“It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November, at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas,” he said.
But, on the first anniversary of entering No 10, the prime minister warned: “I must be, I must be clear with people, I do still think that we have tough times ahead in keeping this virus under control.”
The ability to lift social distancing measures would depend on the success of measures such as the compulsory wearing of face masks in shops, introduced on Friday.
“I'm not going to make a prediction about when these various social distancing measures will come off,” Mr Johnson said – one week after doing exactly that.
“Obviously, we have been able to reduce some of them. We no longer ask people to stay at home, we're trying to get back much closer to normal but our ability to dispense with the social distancing measures will depend on our continued ability to drive down the virus.”
He also made clear he was not asking the public to “shame” people who are not wearing masks in places where the new regulations say they should be.
“I think we should rely on the massive common sense of the British people that have so far delivered the results that we've seen, and that's going to work,” Mr Johnson replied.
He also confirmed he has lost weight since being in intensive care with coronavirus, as he encouraged other people to do the same, saying: “I'm on the way, I've lost about a stone and a bit. Primarily by eating less, but also by a lot of exercise.”
Asked why he never apologises for mistakes made, the prime minister tried to make a joke out of it, saying: “I'm sorry if I don't apologise.”
“Of course there are things that we get wrong,” he admitted. We're learning the whole time and you've got to learn from your mistakes as fast as possible.”
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