Boris Johnson says UK will be ‘well on the way past’ coronavirus by next summer

British leader decries anti-vaxxers while speaking to nurses at an East London GP surgery

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wears a face mask as he visits Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton on July 24, 2020, in London. Getty Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wears a face mask as he visits Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton on July 24, 2020, in London. Getty Images

Britain will be “well on the way past” coronavirus by the middle of next year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared on Friday.

Speaking to nurses at a London GP surgery on the first anniversary of his premiership, Mr Johnson called Covid-19 “a very nasty thing”.

"I think that by the middle of next year we will be well on the way past it,” he said.

“But we must be clear: I do still think we have tough times ahead in terms of keeping this virus under control ... And tough times ahead economically."

But he remained optimistic, saying Britain would recover from the outbreak and “bounce back like never before”.

He also derided people who opposed vaccines.

"There's all these anti-vaxxers now. They are nuts, they are nuts," he said.

His comments come as the British government made flu vaccines free for vulnerable groups over the age of 50 – covering 13 million people – to help protect the country’s National Health Service this winter if there is a second spike of Covid-19.

On Friday new regulations also came into place to make the wearing of face masks compulsory in public places to help stop the spread of the virus. In line with many other countries, those who don’t comply with the regulations will face fines.

Mr Johnson’s government is also cracking down on obesity in the UK after research identified being overweight as a key risk factor to succumbing to Covid-19.

Next week new measures to curb obesity come into place and are expected to include a ban on TV junk food adverts before 9pm. The regulations, still to be finalised, are also thought to impose limits on some in-store promotions of unhealthy food.

Mr Johnson, 55, came close to dying from Covid-19 himself in April and has reportedly said his obesity made him more susceptible to the disease.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 45,000 people in the UK, according to official numbers, making it the hardest-hit country in Europe. The true number is thought to be much higher.

Having reached a peak of 1,445 Covid-19 deaths on its darkest day, Britain has since flattened its curve of infections and reported 53 deaths on Thursday.

Although it has reduced its number of cases, the UK is struggling to keep new infections low and the figures are fluctuating between 500 and 800 new cases a day. On Thursday, it reported 769 more cases.

Mr Johnson on Friday conceded there may have been things he could have done differently in his handling of the crisis.

"Maybe there were things we could have done differently and of course there will be time to understand what exactly we could have done, or done differently," he told the BBC.

One member of the government's scientific advisory group said the death toll could have been halved if lockdown had come a week earlier, but Mr Johnson insisted the government had stuck to scientific advice "like glue".

Asked whether lockdown came too late, he said: "When you listen to the scientists, the questions that you've just asked are actually very open questions as far as they are concerned."

He said the biggest thing that the government failed to understand in the early part of the pandemic was the extent of asymptomatic transmission between people.

"(Covid-19) was something that was new, that we didn't understand in the way that we would have liked in the first few weeks and months," he added.

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Updated: July 25, 2020 01:38 AM

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