Boris Johnson has urged Britons to live “fearlessly but with common sense”, as he warned that the UK faced a very tough winter of dealing with coronavirus.
Speaking as the Conservative party holds its annual conference online, the prime minister said he was taking a balanced approach to the pandemic while keeping as much of the economy open as possible. But he warned that coronavirus would disrupt normal life for the rest of the year.
“I know people are furious with me and they’re furious with the government but . . . 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 told the BBC.
Mr Johnson, who spent several days in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19, said his political philosophy did not lend itself to further restrictions, but his priority was healthcare.
“I’m a freedom-loving Tory. I don’t want to have to impose measures like this . . . this is the last thing we want to do. But I also have to save life. And that’s our priority” he said.
“That’s the priority of the British people and I think they will want to see their government continue to work, continuing to fight the virus and that’s what we’re doing.”
With 17m people now facing restrictions on households socialising, Mr Johnson said he appreciated the fatigue that parts of the country were feeling about the restrictions.
The Johnson government attributed a sharp increase in case numbers on Saturday to a technical issue that has now been resolved, but warned that caseload numbers over the next couple of days would probably be higher than normal because the figures would “include some additional cases from the period between 24 September and 1 October.”
On Friday, data from the Government Office for Science and Sage revealed that the R number in the UK was between 1.3 and 1.6, up from between 1.2 and 1.5 the previous week. This means that every 10 people infected with coronavirus are likely to infect around 13 to 16 people.
Mr Jonson admitted that the UK’s much-criticised testing and contact tracing system was “not perfect” but dismissed the notion that the government had over promised and under delivered in its response to the pandemic.
Mr Johnson’s call for people to use their common sense follows concerns from Conservative MPs, ministers and activists that he is not focused enough on the needs of the economy.
ConservativeHome, an influential website, reported on Sunday that Mr Johnson’s ratings among the party’s grassroots members had collapsed. According to its latest survey, his ratings had sunk to minus 10 points compared with an overwhelmingly positive view of chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The prime minister dismissed the idea he was still suffering fatigue as a result of Covid-19 as “drivel” and “balderdash”, while urging US president Donald Trump, who has tested positive for coronavirus, to follow the advice of his doctors.
Labour’s shadow health minister Alex Norris accused Mr Johnson of “serial incompetence” and said he “waffled and ducked every question”.