Boris Johnson Returns to Work but Says Lockdown Must Go On

Boris Johnson has returned to work today, three weeks after he was hospitalized with the coronavirus.

The Prime Minister returned to Downing Street to lead the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak amid growing calls from members of his own party as well as the business community to set out a plan to ease the lockdown.

Delivering a speech outside Number 10, Johnson thanked the country for "stepping up" and said he was sorry for being "away from my desk".

He said: "Every day I know that this virus brings new sadness.

"It is still true that this is the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war.

"It is also true we are making progress."

However, the prime minister said now was not the time to ease up the lockdown and that he would not "throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people" by easing lockdown restrictions too quickly.

Johnson is expected to chair the regular morning meeting of the government's COVID-19 "war cabinet" before meeting with senior ministers and officials.

The Prime Minister had spent three nights in intensive care at St Thomas' Hospital in London, before returning to a ward and being discharged on April 12.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who had been deputizing for him in his absence, said that Boris was "raring to go" after spending a fortnight at Chequers, the prime minister's official country residence.

Ahead of his return to work, the prime minister held a three-hour meeting on Friday with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

His return comes after the official death toll in the U.K. from coronavirus in hospitals surpassed 20,000.

The figures are the fifth highest in the world and do not include deaths in care homes or the community.

Boris Johnson returns to work coronavirus
The Prime Minister has returned to Downing Street to lead the government's response to coronavirus Getty

On his first day back, the prime minister is expected to try to balance the demands of the business community who want an easing of the lockdown over concerns at the damage it is doing to the economy, with the need to protect the public's health and preventing the NHS being overwhelmed from a "second peak of viruses."

However, scientists have warned any relaxation risks a renewed flare-up in coronavirus cases and deaths.

The prime minister said today that the government should only ease up on the lockdown when it was confident there could be no second peak.

He added that he wanted "maximum transparency" about how the decisions to relax restrictions are taken.

Members of Johnson's own Conservative party, including the influential 1922 committee, a group of backbench Tory MPs, have called on the prime minister to ease the lockdown in the next few weeks, over fears anything longer could "devastate the economy", the BBC reported.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the country's fiscal watchdog, has warned that the U.K. economy could record a 35 percent drop in output if the lockdown remains in place until June.

Johnson is also expected to attend Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday afternoon, which will be the first time he takes on new Labour leader Keir Starmer.