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Britain is past the peak and on downward slope: Johnson

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Boris Johnson (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

Boris Johnson (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

Boris Johnson (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

Britain is past the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted as he promised to reveal a "road map" out of national lockdown soon.

Appearing at a news conference for the first time since he fell seriously ill with the virus a month ago, Mr Johnson said: "We're past the peak and we are on the downward slope."

The number of hospital admissions and people in intensive care with Covid-19 in the UK is now falling, and deaths are increasing less sharply than in early April.

Crucially, the disease's reproduction rate - the number of people each person with the virus infects - is now below 1.

Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said it was between 0.6 and 0.9 in different parts of the UK.

As other European countries begin to reopen businesses and schools, Mr Johnson is under pressure to reveal when and how the government will ease a nationwide lockdown that was imposed on March 23. The restrictions are due to last at least until May 7.

Mr Johnson said he would set out a "comprehensive plan" next week about steps to restart the economy, reopen schools and get people back to work.

In an apparent change in government policy, he said face coverings would be "useful" in the next stage of the crisis, for both epidemiological reasons and to give confidence to those returning to work.

However, he stressed that any changes would be gradual.

"We've come under what could have been a vast peak... and we can now see the sunlight and pasture ahead of us," he said. "And so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain."

Mr Johnson's government is facing growing criticism as it becomes clear the country will have one of the world's highest coronavirus death tolls.

He said that another 674 people with the coronavirus had died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings, taking the total to 26,771.

Only the United States and Italy have higher tolls, though Mr Johnson stressed international comparisons were "very difficult".

He acknowledged frustration about problems getting protective equipment to front-line workers and in carrying out testing, but insisted that the government was throwing "everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right".

The government has acknowledged it may miss its goal of conducting 100,000 tests for coronavirus a day by the end of yesterday.

Meanwhile, South Korea recorded no new locally transmitted cases of coronavirus infections for the first time since February yesterday, in a milestone vindicating its much praised "trace, test, treat" pandemic strategy.

The timing of the announcement - two weeks after the logistical feat of holding the country's general elections during a pandemic - offered further evidence that South Korea has become a world leader in how to defeat Covid-19.

However, South Korea's Centres for Disease Control did record four new Covid-19 infections in people arriving from abroad, highlighting the long-term challenge of stamping out the spread of the virus when international borders start to reopen.

From being overwhelmed by hundreds of new cases a day in February, peaking at 909 on February 29, daily infections have now slowed to a trickle, allowing life to resume a precious sense of normality. The national tally stands at 10,765, with the death toll at 247.

In eastern Europe, several countries are beginning to lift lockdown measures after appearing to have coped better than the West.

Several former eastern bloc countries, including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, have experienced far fewer cases of Covid-19, along with a lower death toll, giving them hope of avoiding a second wave of infection.

The spread of the virus has been contained in the Czech Republic and the government will continue to cautiously open up the economy, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said.

The country has seen the number of new cases drop below 100 for the past eight consecutive days, and the number of active cases has also been declining.

A key factor of the success of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the other eastern European states at curtailing the worst excesses of the virus appears to have been speed.

In the US, bleak new figures underscored the economic pain inflicted by the virus as the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surpassed 30 million.

The government reported that 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits last week, raising the total to 30.3 million in the six weeks since the outbreak took hold.

Some economists say that when the US unemployment rate for April comes out next week, it could be as high as 20pc - a figure not seen since the Depression of the 1930s, when joblessness peaked at 25pc.

In Europe, France's economy shrank an eye-popping 5.8pc, the biggest quarterly drop since 1949. In Spain, the contraction was 5.2pc. Germany is projecting that its economy, the eurozone's biggest, will shrink 6.3pc this year.

In Russia, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin revealed he had tested positive for the new coronavirus. He told President Vladimir Putin during a video call that he would self-isolate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent