In Brief

Boris Johnson returns to work after brush with death

Prime minister ‘raring to go’ despite splits in cabinet and imminent decision over how and when to lift lockdown

Boris Johnson returns to work today facing one of the hardest decisions of his premiership, deciding when and how to begin lifting the coronavirus lockdown that has brought the British economy to its knees.

The prime minister has been recuperating at his country residence Chequers for the past two weeks following a spell in intensive care, where he received regular oxygen treatment to help his breathing.

The Daily Mail reports he has been “easing back into something closer to a normal workload, making calls to Ministers, working on official papers and holding a series of – sometimes erratic – meetings on Zoom”.

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been standing in for Johnson during his absence, said he was “raring to go” despite the Metro reporting the prime minister is “still feeling the ‘debilitating’ symptoms of coronavirus”.

“Johnson's remarkably swift return to his full schedule will delight cabinet ministers and Tory MPs who fear there has been a power vacuum at the heart of government during his absence battling against his illness,” says Sky News.

With the number of recorded UK hospital deaths of people with the coronavirus passing 20,000 on Saturday, Johnson will need to quickly re-assert control over decision-making at the top of government and reassure the country he has plan to end the lockdown.

“The economic news has been equally dire,” says Reuters, with data showing demand has slumped to an all-time low and government debt was surging “adding to pressure on the government to give some indication of when and how people and businesses would be able to get to work”.

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The Daily Mail reports that “splits have opened up in the government over how to map a path out of the lockdown, and criticism of ministers for failing to introduce widespread testing and source adequate supplies of protective equipment for health workers”.

“The arguments boiling up within the cabinet about rival versions of an ‘exit strategy’ cannot be contained behind closed doors for any longer,” writes Andrew Rawnsley in The Guardian. “The prime minister faces a host of complicated choices about when and how to ease the lockdown that all add up to one giant decision”.

As well as splits in cabinet, Johnson is facing pressure from his backbenchers and “a series of wealthy Tory backers who have donated millions of pounds to the party coffers [who] have urged the government to begin loosening the restrictions to controls to allow the economy to start up again”, reports the Metro.

While his brush with death and subsequent absence have insulated him personally from mounting criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, Johnson’s return and renewed public appearances at both the daily press briefings and the dispatch box could begin to impact his high popularity ratings.

He will also face greater scrutiny from the opposition, with Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer promising a more forensic dissection of the government’s coronavirus strategy.

While wishing Johnson well on his return, the BBC reports that opposition parties have “said he urgently needs to give more detail about his approach to easing aspects of the current lockdown next month, if it is deemed safe to do so”.

The Mail says that some ministers “are urging the prime minister to ‘bind Labour’ into any decision on lifting the lockdown to avoid the opposition ‘weaponising’ any future increase in cases”.

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