The UK is past the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and is now on the downward slope, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday as he returned to address the 10 Downing Street daily briefing here after a gap of nearly five weeks following his coronavirus illness.
Johnson, 55, started by expressing his gratitude to the country's National Health Service (NHS) for "getting him back" to work after hospitalisation with COVID-19, as well as a "much happier" hospital visit on Wednesday, when his fiancee Carrie Symonds gave birth to their baby boy.
He then went on to promise to table a comprehensive plan for the next phase in the pandemic fightback and unlocking the economy over time.
"I can now confirm that we are past the peak of this disease and we are on the downward slope, and we have so many reasons to be hopeful for the long term," Johnson said.
"We've come under what could have been a vast peak, as though we've been going through some huge alpine tunnel and we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us. And so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain," he said, indicating that the strict social distancing measures would not be substantially lifted any time soon.
Johnson also paid a "tribute" to his Indian-origin finance minister Rishi Sunak for laying out a range of measures to help struggling businesses cope through the economic lockdown and expressed confidence that the UK economy would "bounce back" from the crisis.
As he released the death toll figure from COVID-19 as 26,711, a rise of 674 deaths from the previous day across hospitals and in the wider community, Johnson also highlighted that the number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions from the deadly virus had continued their downward slide.
It means that the rate of infection, referred to as 'R', has been "decreasing" but it needs to be kept down by maintaining the social distancing norms in place.