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PM: We can turn tide in 12 weeks

Team
effort:
Boris
Johnson at
briefing
with Chris
Whitty (left)
and Sir
Patrick
Vallance PICTURE: EPA

BORIS JOHNSON last night predicted it will take ‘12 weeks to turn the tide’ on coronavirus if everyone obeys official advice to self-distance.

The prime minister hailed scientific progress — revealing that a British patient was taking part in trials of a treatment for Covid-19.

He said the government was in talks over buying antibody testing kits — as simple as pregnancy tests — that could quickly show if people have had the disease. He has also set a target of 250,000 conventional tests a day.

‘This crisis is so difficult because the enemy is invisible,’ the PM said. ‘And the answer is to remove the cloak of invisibility. We can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident we can send coronavirus packing but only if we all take the steps we have outlined.’

He admitted the virus was ‘not yet responding to our interventions’ and acknowledged he couldn’t promise it would be on the wane by June.

But he added: ‘It will be finite and we can turn the tide and I can see a way of doing it in the next 12 weeks.’

Mr Johnson’s call for Britain to pull together to beat the virus came as Italy yesterday became the worst affected country with a death toll of 3,405 — more than China’s.

With the number of deaths here up to 144, the PM unveiled emergency powers that will allow police to arrest people suspected of being infected, and enable gatherings to be banned.

The Queen issued a message urging people to find ‘new ways of staying in touch with one another and ensuring that loved ones are safe’.

The chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce emergency funding for workers struck by the economic crisis today after the PM pleaded with firms not to lay off staff.

‘For everyone worried about their jobs or facing difficulties, I say to businesses — stand by your workers because we’re going to stand by you,’ said Mr Johnson. ‘We are asking a huge amount but it is crucial to saving literally thousands of lives.

‘It is through a combination of ruthless, determined collective action and scientific progress we will succeed.’

The Bank of England slashed interest rates to a record low of 0.1 per cent and announced £200billion of quantitative easing in an attempt to keep the ailing economy afloat.

Essential supplies and camp beds were delivered yesterday to Downing Street as the government was forced to deny it has plans to prevent people from leaving the capital.

There are three times as many cases in London than in any other part of the country and young people are still flocking to bars.

‘The mixing in pubs and restaurants needs to stop — and it needs to stop among younger people,’ said Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty warned: ‘It’s important we don’t give the impression that young people just breeze through this.

‘There is a small proportion of young people who will have severe disease.’

Forty of London’s Tube stations were earmarked for closure by the weekend as 20,000 troops were put on standby and hundreds began training to drive oxygen tankers to hospitals.

Troops may also be pulled back from overseas deployment.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need.’

MPs are expected to fast track the Emergency Coronavirus Bill through parliament on Monday.

It will protect medics from negligence claims and allow elections to be postponed. Retailers will be compelled to share information with the government to protect the food chain.

Police will be given extended warrant powers and a signature from just one doctor will be needed to section a person under the Mental Health Act.

Restaurants, bars, pubs, stations, ports and airports could all be shut and anyone refusing a coronavirus test could be fined £1,000. Labour is expected to back the plans but warned MPs must be allowed to pull the plug.

‘I am not going to vote for draconian emergency measures that don’t have a renewal clause, preferably every 30 or 60 days,’ said the party’s Chris Bryant. ‘Two years is excessive for measures that restrict liberty and even six months is not good enough.’

The Church of England, which has already cancelled all church services, said weddings should be limited to five people including the bride and groom.

The social distancing instructions include avoiding non-essential use of public transport and gatherings in enclosed spaces, and keeping at least a metre from other people.