April 26, 2020 / 7:34 AM / a month ago

UK's Johnson 'raring to go' but faces mountain of problems

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will come under immediate pressure to set out a plan to ease the coronavirus lockdown when he returns to work on Monday after a three-week interruption due to a bad case of COVID-19.

Johnson, who spent a week in hospital in early April including three nights in intensive care, is “raring to go” as he prepares to return from his country residence to his Downing Street office in London, a source there said on Sunday.

In his absence, the government has faced growing criticism over complaints from staff in hospitals and care homes that they have received insufficient supplies of protective kit, and over levels of coronavirus testing that are well below its target.

The number of deaths related to COVID-19 in hospitals across the United Kingdom has risen above 20,000, the latest data showed on Saturday, with the overall figure likely to be significantly higher once deaths in care homes and hospices are tallied.

But with signs of economic calamity and public frustration at strict social distancing measures piling up, the government is facing growing calls to start explaining how it intends to ease the lockdown.

So far, ministers have refused to give any indication on their thinking to the public, arguing that for now everyone needed to remain focused on the core message which was to stay at home except for essential travel.

On his desk, Johnson will find a letter from opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arguing that their stance was no longer tenable and the government should treat the public as grown-ups.

“The UK government is behind the curve on this. I fear we are falling behind the rest of the world. Simply acting as if this discussion is not happening is not credible,” Starmer wrote in the letter, which was circulated to journalists.

“The British public have made great sacrifices to make the lockdown work. They deserve to be part of an adult conversation about what comes next. If we want to take people with us and secure their consent, this is necessary now.” (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon Editing by Gareth Jones)

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