Boris Johnson has said the UK “can turn the tide” against coronavirus in the next 12 weeks – as he revealed the government is in talks to buy “hundreds of thousands” of tests to reveal if people are immune.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, the prime minister also said the first British patient had been put in a randomised trial for a treatment for COVID-19.
Mr Johnson thanked Britons for their “huge efforts” in complying with government advice on stopping the spread of the disease.
He said: “We’re asking students to put their education on hold, we’re asking people not to socialise in the normal way and already we can see the impact this is having on the UK economy and on business, on great, great companies.
“So it’s vital that we in government stand behind them when what we are asking everyone to do is so crucial for saving literally thousands of lives by fighting this virus.”
Quizzed by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby over his 12-week figure – and whether he was saying UK life could return to normal by the summer – Mr Johnson said: “I am very confident that we’ll get this thing done.
“I am very confident that we’ll beat coronavirus.
“I think we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks, but it depends on collective, resolute action.
“The encouraging thing is the more disciplined we can all be in doing that, the greater the chances the scientific community will be able soon to come up with fantastic results on testing to say nothing of the other medical treatments.”
However, later asked what he meant by “turning the tide”, the prime minister admitted the government “don’t know how long” the coronavirus outbreak will last for.
“What I want to do is get on top of it,” he said.
“At the moment, the disease is proceeding in a way that does not seem yet to be responding to our interventions.
“I believe a combination of the measures that we’re asking the public to take and better testing, scientific progress, will enable us to get on top of it within the next 12 weeks and turn the tide.
“Now, I cannot stand here and tell you by the end of June we will be on the downward slope.
“It’s possible, but I simply can’t say that’s for certain. Of course not.
“We don’t know where we are, we don’t know how long this thing will go on for.
“But what I can say is this is going to be finite, we will turn the tide and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeks.”
It comes as the number of people who have died after contracting coronavirus in the UK has risen to 137.
Earlier on Thursday, the government published emergency legislation in which it is seeking urgent new powers to try and contain the spread of COVID-19.
The Coronavirus Bill, which is set to be rushed through the House of Commons in a single day on Monday, will give the government the power to shut down the UK’s ports and airports and allow police to detain and quarantine people suspected of having coronavirus.
The proposed laws will also allow the government to “restrict or prohibit events and gatherings during the pandemic in any place… and, where necessary, to close premises”.
However, there is “zero prospect” of restrictions on travel in and out of London over the coronavirus pandemic, Downing Street said as it moved to dampen down speculation that a full-scale lockdown of the capital could be enforced.
Dozen of Tube stations closed in London on Thursday, with a reduced service running from Friday.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has told Londoners they should only travel unless they “really, really have to”, but he insisted the network must remain open to aid front-line health workers.
Coronavirus is estimated to be most widespread in the capital.
The prime minister has previously said the spread of COVID-19 in London was “a few weeks ahead” of other parts of the country.
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