Boris Johnson has warned the UK could still be dealing with coronavirus until next summer – as he admits ministers didn’t understand the pandemic for ‘months.’
The Prime Minister suggested masks could remain compulsory in shops for at least a year, but declined to put a precise time scale on new rules requiring people to wear a face covering in all shops or face a £100 fine.
He implied the mask policy was likely to stay in place for months as the Government tries to open up the economy while avoiding a second wave of coronavirus.
Visiting the Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton, east London today, the PM said lifting the rule would ‘depend on our continued ability to drive down the virus’.
However, Mr Johnson added it was likely to be ‘the middle of next year’ before the UK was ‘well on the way past it’.
The Prime Minister (pictured at the Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton today) suggested masks could remain compulsory in shops for at least a year
He said: ‘This whole planet has faced a very nasty new foe in the form of a bug that we didn’t know about before.’
‘I think that by the middle of next year we will be well on the way, we will be well on the way past it. But … I must be clear with people, I do still think that we have tough times ahead in keeping this virus under control.
‘We have tough times ahead in coming through economically, but I have absolutely no doubt that we are going to, and this country is going to bounce back stronger than ever before.’
Speaking about how long measures will have to remain in place, Mr Johnson said: ‘The use of face masks, the use of all the social distancing measures really does depend on our ability collectively to get the pandemic right down and to keep it down.
‘I’m not going to make a prediction about when these various social distancing measures will come off.
‘Obviously we have been able to reduce some of them. We no longer ask people to stay at home, we’re trying to get back much closer to normal, but our ability to dispense with the social distancing measures will depend on our continued ability to drive down the virus.’
It comes as the Prime Minister tonight admitted his Government could have done things ‘differently’ early on in the coronavirus pandemic – but denied being too slow to act as the disease swept the nation.
In an interview to mark a year since becoming Tory leader and Prime Minister, Mr Johnson admitted that politicians and scientists ‘didn’t understand (the virus) in the way that we would have liked’ in the spring.
The PM has come under heavy pressure in recent weeks over whether the lockdown began early enough, after chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs they wanted it brought in a week before it came into effect on March 23.
Speaking to the BBC tonight, Mr Johnson said: ‘When you look back at this crisis, everybody can see that this 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.
Pictured: Shoppers at Sainsbury’s Guildford wear masks inside the supermarket today
Pictured: Shoppers visit the Tesco Extra store in Shieldfield, Newcastle, this morning, buying groceries without wearing a face mask
‘And I think probably, you know, the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which it was being transmitted asymptomatically from person to person.
‘That wasn’t clear to us or to anybody. But … there will be plenty of time by the way to look back at all the other things that we need to learn and there will be an occasion to do that.’
Asked if his administration had been slow to act, he added: ‘No, on the contrary, no if you look at the timing of every single piece of advice that we got from our advisers, from Sage, you will find that whenever they said that we needed to take a particular step, actually, we stuck to that advice like glue.’
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘This finally puts to bed the Prime Minister’s previous claim his Government ”took the right decisions at the right time”.
‘Boris Johnson has finally admitted the Government has mishandled its response to the Coronavirus. It was too slow to acknowledge the threat of the virus, too slow to enter lockdown and too slow to take this crisis seriously.
‘The threat of a second wave is still very real. It is imperative the Government learns the lessons of its mistakes so we can help to save lives.’
Attempts to make sure people wear masks in shops hit teething problems as the rules came into force today.
Pictured: Shoppers wear face coverings to protect themselves from COVID-19 as they queue at a shop in London
Police and retailers refused to enforce the requirement and the care minister suggested people should not be ‘accosted’ if they failed to wear one.
Officers claimed they do not have the resources and said the ‘greater onus’ should be on shopkeepers to make sure their customers cover their faces.
But supermarkets insisted it is up to the police to enforce the rules and said their staff would not be challenging those without masks amid fears of violent attacks.
Wearing a mask also became compulsory in banks, post offices, shopping centres, petrol stations and transport hubs.
Only young children and people with medical conditions affected by a mask are exempt. Police chiefs across the country said their officers would not be routinely enforcing the regulations and they would only be sent out ‘as a last resort’.
Thousands of people were spotted visiting shops without wearing a face covering as the new laws came into force on Friday.
Marks & Spencer, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Asda and Morrisons have said it is not up to their workers to enforce the rules.
In a branch of Sainsbury’s, one shopper was pelted with a tub of double cream by a woman for not wearing a mask.
The supermarket said it will display posters and make regular loudspeaker announcements asking customers to wear a mask, but it was not the responsibility of staff to challenge them.
But branches of McDonald’s ordered customers without face coverings to leave the restaurants.
In an interview to mark a year since becoming Tory leader and Prime Minister he admitted that politicians and scientists ‘didn’t understand (the virus) in the way that we would have liked’ in the spring
Asked if his administration had been slow to act, he added: ‘No, on the contrary, no if you look at the timing of every single piece of advice that we got from our advisers, from Sage, you will find that whenever they said that we needed to take a particular step, actually, we stuck to that advice like glue’
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: ‘Police officers are yet again adapting to a new set of unprecedented laws and guidelines which they wouldn’t have even dreamed of before lockdown.
‘It is our members who are expected to police what is a new way of living and I would urge retail outlets to play their part in making the rules crystal clear: if you are not wearing a face covering then you are not coming in.’
But care minister Helen Whately called for a softly-softly approach and pointed out that some people, including those with autism and conditions like anxiety, are exempt from wearing them.
Health minister hints hands may need to be covered in public spaces
A Tory peer today revealed the Government is examining whether gloves may need to be worn in public spaces.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Conservative Baroness McIntosh of Pickering asked: ‘Has the Government formed a view on the use of gloves?
‘Obviously we’re all following the guidance of washing our hands but surely the correct use of gloves outdoors and indoors could prevent the passing on of the virus?’
Health minister Lord Bethell, concluding a debate on coronavirus regulations, replied: ‘To date, gloves are not in the guidance but they remain an area that we’re looking at.’
The exchanges came on the day people in England were required to start wearing face coverings in shops, shopping centres, banks, takeaways, post offices, sandwich shops and supermarkets or risk a £100 fine.
She predicted that ‘most people’ would wear a mask voluntarily, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are expecting people to be reasonable about this. And we don’t want to see members of the public accosted for not wearing a face mask.’
Some retailers have raised concerns that asking shop staff to enforce the measures will lead to further abuse against them.
Jo Whitfield, from the Co-op, said: ‘On a daily basis they face abuse, threatening behaviour and even physical assault. Our own figures show that during the Covid crisis such instances have risen and enforcing the wearing of face masks could be another flashpoint that shop workers don’t need.’
Coronavirus cases in England appear to be creeping up with 1,000 more people estimated to be catching the disease every day than they were last week, official data showed today as the UK recorded 123 more Covid-19 deaths.
All of the victims are assumed to be in England considering Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland health agencies reported zero fatalities for the second day running. The new deaths take the total in the UK to 45,677.
Covid-19 cases have reached 297,914, according to the Government tally. Some 770 new cases were announced by the Department of Health today, the highest in a week and taking the seven-day rolling average up to 668 – a nine per cent increase on last Friday.
It comes as Office for National Statistics data based on population testing estimate that daily infections have risen from 1,700 to 2,800 in the space of seven days, to a current total of 22,400 new cases per week.
It suggests one in 2,000 people across the country were carrying Covid-19 within the most recent week up to July 19 – a total of 27,700 people or 0.05 per cent of the population. This figure has crept up from the estimated 0.04 per cent (24,000) thought to be infected last week and the 0.03 per cent (14,000) the week before.
Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said: ‘At last Boris Johnson has admitted what we have all known for sometime – this Government made fundamental mistakes in their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
‘However, to try and minimise this as there were some things they could have done differently is not only an enormous understatement, but it is an insult to all those who tragically lost loved ones to the virus.
‘This interview has left people with more questions than answers. With no remorse for the catastrophic mistakes, such as the failure to protect our care homes, or the refusal to put a comprehensive plan in place for a potential second wave, it is clear the Prime Minster has learnt nothing over the course of the last few months.
‘Boris Johnson’s comments today prove why an immediate independent inquiry is so essential. The Prime Minister and his Government must be faced with the reality of where they went wrong, so that they can learn from their mistakes which have led to tragic consequences.’