British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he could begin to ease a nationwide coronavirus lockdown next week, but warned he would do nothing that would risk a new surge of cases.
He was speaking the day after Britain overtook Italy to become the worst-hit country in Europe, with more than 32,000 deaths related to COVID-19 - behind only the United States in the global rankings.
Johnson said that every death is a tragedy, calling the statistics appalling, but said there was not yet enough data to make international comparisons.
In particular, he said he bitterly regrets the deaths in care homes, which stand at more than 6,000, but added that there had been a palpable improvement in the last few days.
The wider death rate is coming down, six weeks after the government imposed stay-at-home orders to stem the rate of infection, and the lockdown measures are up for review on Thursday.
Speaking in parliament for the first time since he himself was hospitalized with coronavirus, Johnson said the government would review the data and he would set out the next steps on Sunday.
We'll want if we possibly can to get going with some of these measures on Monday. I think it would be a good thing if people had an idea of what is coming, he said.
However, the government has previously stressed that measures would only be lifted gradually. Johnson repeated on Wednesday: It would be an economic disaster for this country if we were to pursue a relaxation of these measures now in such a way as to trigger a second spike.
It was the first time Johnson had appeared at his weekly prime minister's question time (PMQs) in the House of Commons since Mar 25 - two days later he announced he had tested positive for coronavirus.
Quizzing the premier for the first time, new opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, who was elected on April 4, highlighted Britain's death toll.
The health ministry says 29,427 people with coronavirus have died so far, although broader official data puts the number above 32,000 - including 107 health care workers and 29 care staff.
Can the prime minister tell us how on earth did it come to this? Starmer asked in the largely empty chamber, where most MPs joined by video-link.
Johnson replied: Every death is a tragedy and he's right to draw attention to the appalling statistics, not just in this country but across the world. He unveiled a new goal to reach 200,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of May, double the 100,000 target reached only last week.
The government is currently trialing a track-and-trace system using a dedicated phone app that it hopes will be able to identify localized outbreaks of coronavirus.
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