In Brief

Reaction as ‘breathless’ Boris Johnson claims UK is ‘past peak’ of coronavirus

Concern over prime minister’s health at first daily briefing since hospitalisation

Concern has been expressed over the health of Boris Johnson following his first daily Downing Street briefing since he recovered from the coronavirus.

The Daily Mail says Johnson “raised fears for his health” with a “breathless” briefing that saw him “lean on his lectern” and speak with “strained inhalations”. Sky News adds that Johnson was “lacking the trademark high energy that has become the hallmark of his political performance”.

The Mirror agrees, describing Johnson as “weary looking”. Body language expert Judi Jame told the paper that the prime minister’s “grimly unsmiling face with clamped lips… and the way he folded both arms onto the lectern to lean on them both suggested he's still a way from complete recovery”.

The Guardian was less forgiving. John Crace wrote that “breathless Boris” was “left floundering” as he faced a “foe he can't outbluster”.

“The Boss may be back, but the man who longed to be the new Churchill isn’t even the old Boris,” he continued, adding: “Now he’s come up against a power greater than himself; coronavirus is so far immune to almost everything. In a straight contest between coronavirus and bullshit, the coronavirus wins every time.”

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The briefing saw Johnson claim that the UK is “past the peak and on the downward slope”. Despite that, he said the country would have to wait until next week to hear more about his “comprehensive plan” setting out “how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy”.

After previously downplaying the benefits of face-masks in day-to-day life, he said that face coverings “will be useful both for epidemiological reasons but also for giving people confidence they can go back to work” as the UK emerges from lockdown.

He defended his government’s handling of the outbreak, saying: “We’re learning lessons every day – but I do think that, broadly speaking, we did the right thing at the right time.”

Johnson also pledged that he will not make public spending cuts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that austerity would “not be part of our approach”.

However, his claims that his government has been successful in its response to the pandemic have been greeted with widespread derision. A Labour MP accused the PM of living in a “fantasy land”.

Palliative care doctor and author Rachel Clarke objected to “the stone-deaf insensitivity of characterising a shattering death toll, with all the grief and pain that entails, as somehow ‘not’ a tragedy because it’s below 500,000 deaths”.

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