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UK Top News

Johnson sees bumpy COVID winter, but radical changes by spring

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he expected the next few months of the COVID-19 pandemic to be bumpy, but that things would look radically different in the spring.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen outside the BBC headquarters, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain, October 4, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Britain, which has suffered Europe’s worst death toll from the virus, gradually came out of a national lockdown over the summer, but many areas including major cities such as Manchester and Glasgow are currently subject to local restrictions.

Johnson said he knew many people were furious with him over perceived inconsistencies and confusion surrounding the local measures, but he was seeking to strike a balance between public health and the wider needs of society and the economy.

“In these areas, and I appreciate the fatigue that people are experiencing, but we have to work together, follow the guidance and get the virus down whilst keeping the economy moving, that’s the balance we’re trying to find,” he said in an interview on BBC television.

“I know people are furious at me and they’re furious at the government, but I’ve got to tell you, in all candour, 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.”

Johnson had to correct himself on social media on Tuesday after getting his facts wrong while answering a question about social distancing rules that apply to a large swathe of England.

During his Sunday interview, Johnson denied a suggestion that the local restrictions were not working given infection rates were still rising in the affected areas and there was no end in sight to the measures.

“I’m afraid it’s simply too early to say,” he said, adding that the advice to the government was that it was necessary to wait and see if the R number, the reproduction rate of the virus, started to come down.

Striking a more optimistic note, Johnson said he expected the scientific equation to change over the coming months with progress on testing and on vaccines, which would enable the government to take a different approach.

“If you talk to the scientists, they’re all virtually unanimous that by the spring things will be radically different and we’ll be in a different world, that is the normal cycle of a pandemic like this,” he said.

Asked about past promises and forecasts he had made that had not been matched by reality, such as his prediction that Britain’s test-and-trace system would be “world-beating”, Johnson defended his rhetoric.

“This is a pandemic in which people need to understand that there is hope,” he said. “We will get through this very well.”

Britain’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at over 42,300.

The daily number of new infections jumped to a record 12,872 on Saturday, which the government blamed on a reporting delay that would raise numbers in coming days. Johnson ascribed the jump to “a computing issue”.

The total number of COVID-19 infections stands at just over 480,000, with more than 2,400 patients in hospital.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Toby Chopra and Raissa Kasolowsky

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