Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation of the United Kingdom from his office at 10 Downing Street on the coronavirus on May 10, 2020:
“It has now been almost two months since the people of this country began to curtail their freedom – your freedom – in ways we have never seen in peace or war. And you have shown common sense to support those rules with an overwhelming majority. You have endured all the hardships of that social distance program. Because you understand that, as every other country’s experience has shown, it is the only way to defeat the coronavirus – the most cruel threat this country has faced in my life.
And although the death toll has been tragic, and the suffering immense. And although we mourn all those we have lost. The fact is that with these measures we have prevented this country from being overrun by what could have been a catastrophe, in which half a million have died in the fairly worst case scenario. And it is thanks to your effort and sacrifice to stop the spread of this disease that the mortality rate is decreasing and that there are fewer hospital admissions. And thanks to you, we’ve protected our NHS (National Health Service is the UK’s public health system) and saved many thousands of lives. And so I know – you know – now it would be madness to throw that feat away by allowing a second peak.
We must remain alert. We need to control the virus and save lives. And yet we must also recognize that this campaign against the virus has cost a colossal price for our way of life. We can see it all around us in the blind shops and abandoned businesses and darkened cafes and restaurants. And there are millions of people who are both afraid of this terrible disease and at the same time are afraid of what this long period of forced inactivity will do for their livelihood and for their mental and physical well-being. For their future and the future of their children.
So I want tonight – for you – to be in the form of a plan to address both fears. Both to defeat the virus and to provide the first outline of a roadmap for reopening society. A sense of the way forward, and when and how and on what basis we will make the decisions to move forward. I will set out more details in Parliament tomorrow and answer questions from the public in the evening. I have consulted across the political spectrum, with all four countries of the United Kingdom.
And although different parts of the country are experiencing the pandemic at different rates. And although it is right to be flexible in our response. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland – I believe there is a strong determination to beat this together. And today there is a general consensus about what we could do. And I emphasize that this is possible. Because although we have a plan, it is a conditional plan.
And since our priority is to protect the public and save lives, we cannot move forward unless we pass the five tests. We must protect our NHS. We must see a sustained decline in the death rate. We must see sustained and significant declines in the number of infections. We have to meet our challenges in getting enough PPE (Personal protective equipment) to the people who need it, and yes it is a global problem, but we have to solve it.
And finally, we need to make sure that the measures we take don’t lead to an increase in the reproduction rate of the disease – the R – so that we get the kind of exponential growth we faced a few weeks ago. And to map our progress and prevent us from going back to the beginning, we are setting up a new Covid warning system operated by a new Community Biosafety Center. And that Covid Alert Level will mainly be determined by R (risk = risk) and the number of coronavirus cases.
And that Covid Alert Level, in turn, will tell us how hard we should be in our social detachments – the lower the level, the fewer the measures. The higher the level, the harder and stricter we need to be. There will be five warning levels. Level one means the disease is no longer present in the UK and level five is the most critical level – the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS were overwhelmed. During the lockdown period we have been in Level Four, and it is thanks to your sacrifice that we are now able to progress to Level Three in steps. And as we go everyone will play a part in keeping the R down. By staying alert and following the rules.
And to keep reducing the number of infections, there are two more things we need to do. We need to reverse the terrible epidemics in nursing homes and the NHS quickly, and while numbers are now plummeting, there is clearly much more to do. And if we want to get this virus under control, we need a global system to test potential victims and find their contacts. All in all, we test literally hundreds of thousands of people every day.
We have made rapid progress in testing – but there is so much more to do now, and we can do it. When this started, we had never seen this disease before, and we didn’t fully understand its consequences. With each day we get more and more data. We will shine the light of science on this invisible killer, and we will pick it up where it strikes. Because our new system will be able to detect local flare-ups – in your area – in time and give us a national picture.
And yet, looking at where we are tonight, we have the R below one, between 0.5 and 0.9 – but possibly just below one. And while we’ve made strides in meeting at least some of the conditions I’ve given. We have far from met all the conditions. And so no, this is not the time to end the lockdown this week. Instead, we are taking the first tentative steps to adjust our measures.
And the first step is a shift in emphasis that we hope people will take action this week. We’ve said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you have to. We must now emphasize that anyone who cannot work from home, for example in construction or production, should be actively encouraged to work. And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if possible – because we must and will maintain social distance, and so capacity will be limited.
So work from home if you can, but you have to go to work if you can’t work from home. And to make sure you’re safe at work, we’ve been working on new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID safe. And if you do go to work, do it if possible by car or even better on foot or by bike. However, as with workplaces, public transport companies will also follow COVID security standards. And from this Wednesday we want to encourage people to exercise more and even unlimited in the open air.
You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even do sports, but only with members of your own household. You must abide by the social distance rules, and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break these rules. And so every day, with more and more data, we will keep an eye on the R and the number of new infections, and the progress we are making, and if we as a nation begin to meet the conditions I have set, then we can may go even further in the coming weeks and months.
In step two – at the earliest on June 1 – after the half term – we think we will be able to start the phased reopening of stores and get primary school students back into schools, in stages, starting with the childcare, the 1st year and the 6th year. Our ambition is that high school students who are confronted with exams next year will have at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. And we will soon be setting out detailed guidelines on how to make it work in schools and shops and in the field of transportation.
And step three – at the earliest in July – and under all of these conditions and further scientific advice; if and only if the numbers support it, we hope to reopen at least some of the hospitality and other public places, provided they are safe and enforce social distance. During this period of the next two months, we will not be guided only by hope or economic need. We will be driven by science, data and public health.
And I must emphasize again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of large Ifs (if). It depends on all of us – all over the country – to follow the advice, to take social distance and keep that R down. And to avoid reinfection from abroad, I note that it will soon be time – with a significantly lower transmission – to quarantine people entering this country by air. And it is because of your efforts to bring the R down and the number of infections down here that this measure will now be effective. And of course we will monitor our progress at local, regional and national level and if there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put the brakes on. We have already passed the first peak – but it is often more dangerous to go down the mountain.
We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the overwhelming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihood and gradually restore the freedoms we need. But in the end, this is a plan that everyone should make work. And when I look at what you’ve already done. The patience and common sense you have shown. The determination of the elderly whose isolation we all want to end as soon as possible. The incredible courage and hard work of our NHS employees, our rescuers. The dedication and self-sacrifice of all those at every stage of life who help us to defeat this disease.
Police, bus drivers, train drivers, pharmacists, supermarket workers, road hauliers, garbage collectors, cleaners, security guards, postmen, our teachers and a thousand others. The scientists who work around the clock to find a vaccine. When I think of the millions of daily acts of kindness and thoughtfulness performed in this country. And that has helped us get through this first phase.
I know we can use this plan to get us through the next one. And if we can’t do it against that data, and if the alert level doesn’t allow it, we’ll just wait and continue until we get it right. We will come back from this devilish disease. We will return to health and robust health.
And while this experience will change the UK, I think we can be stronger and better than ever before. More resilient, innovative, economically more dynamic, but also more generous and more sharing. But for now, we need to stay alert, control the virus, and save lives.”