PM 'pushed social distancing to the limit' with full Cabinet meeting

Boris ‘in properly good nick’ as he storms back into Downing Street amid wry smiles from ministers as the cabinet ditch Zoom to welcome him back in person despite social distancing rules

  • Cabinet room was ‘fully occupied’ yesterday after weeks of virtual meetings
  • Sources say Boris Johnson is in ‘properly good nick’ and had fully recovered 
  • He was asking ‘very detailed questions’ but is still not chairing press conferences

Boris Johnson was on top form as he stormed back into Downing Street and chaired a ‘full’ cabinet coronavirus meeting in person to the wry smiles of ministers, sources said yesterday. 

The Prime Minister, 55, ditched Zoom despite appeals from advisers to avoid appearing in person and walked confidently into a packed cabinet room for his 9.15am meeting on Monday.

Social distancing rules were ‘pushed to the limit’, with so many ministers back at No10, reports The Times.  

But Mr Johnson, who returned to London from his two-week stint at Chequers on Sunday, was in ‘properly good nick’ and looked in better shape than he was before falling ill, according to the paper. 

There was no sign of his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, 31, who also fell ill with the virus, but she is believed to be returning to the flat at No11 soon. 

Mr Johnson walks back into No 10 where he then chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee

Some watching today’s war cabinet meeting told The Times the PM was ‘asking very detailed questions’ and ‘sounded like he was very much on top of it’.   

One adviser told the paper there was ‘much more energy’ at this meeting than ones before Mr Johnson was struck down with a fever.   

On his first full day back in Downing Street, the Prime Minister spoke optimistically about entering a ‘second phase’ of the battle against the coronavirus in which some of the crippling restrictions can be relaxed.

The PM said this phase would see the Government ‘continue to suppress the disease… but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions, and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy’. 

But he added: ‘We must also recognise the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus… because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster.

Boris Johnson chairs a meeting to update on the coronavirus outbreak, in the cabinet room of the 10 Downing Street

‘We would be forced once again to slam on the brakes across the whole country and the whole economy.’

Speaking on the steps of Downing Street, the PM hinted that any easing of the lockdown in the coming weeks would be very gradual and would involve difficult trade-offs.

Mr Johnson is under intense pressure from business, backbench Tories and some ministers to begin easing the lockdown. He said he understood the ‘impatience’ of people to get the economy going, adding that without the private sector there would be ‘no economy to speak of, no cash to pay for our public services’.

‘I can see the long-term consequences of lockdown as clearly as anyone,’ he said. ‘I entirely share your urgency – it’s the Government’s urgency.’

Mr Johnson pledged to involve the public, business and opposition leaders in striking the right balance between controlling the epidemic and returning to something like normal life.

‘These decisions will be taken with the maximum possible transparency,’ he said. ‘And I want to share all our working and our thinking, my thinking, with you, the British people.’

Mr Johnson, who spent three days in intensive care battling the disease, likened it to an ‘invisible mugger’ which the country had ‘begun together to wrestle to the floor’. 

Mr Johnson, 55, is pictured strolling out of No10 to give his address yesterday after a two-week recovery at Chequers in Buckinghamshire

He added: ‘This is the moment of opportunity – this is the moment when we can press home our advantage (but) it is also the moment of maximum risk.’

He paid tribute to the public for the ‘sheer grit and guts’ shown in accepting the restrictions on Britain’s ‘ancient and basic freedoms’. Government sources indicated that ministers would start to spell out some of the choices in the coming days.

These include the possible reopening of some retail outlets, such as garden centres, and discussion about whether to reopen schools after the half-term break at the end of next month.

The Prime Minister is also set to replace the existing ‘Stay Home’ slogan with a more relaxed message.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the virus was circulating at a low enough level to allow some ‘room for manoeuvre’ in easing restrictions, but added there was ‘no perfect combination where we can do all the things people want us to do’ and still keep the virus under control.

He warned that any decision to reopen schools in June would mean restrictions in other areas staying in place for longer.

Last night there were signs that the decision on schools is so finely balanced that different parts of the UK may move at different speeds. 

Plans for the phased return to school for children in Wales are due to be announced today. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said children could go back part-time to allow for social distancing in the classroom.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson chaired his first meeting of the Government’s ‘war cabinet’ for three weeks. 

He is expected to chair a Cabinet meeting on Thursday and will hold one-to-one catch-up talks with senior ministers. He will also hold talks this week with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer aimed at trying to agree a ‘consensus’ on the way forward.

His spokesman said his doctors had given him the green light to return to work ‘full time’ after two weeks of convalescence, but aides are limiting his public appearances. 

HENRY DEEDES: Boris Johnson is a man still adjusting to life after a terrifying brush with death’s pale rider   

By Henry Deedes for The Daily Mail

He emerged hesitantly, tiptoeing gently down the steps of Downing Street like a winter swimmer wading into the icy foam. 

Gone was the rhinoceros charge we are used to seeing flying out of that famous black door, that head-first, shoulders-down barge, which he would throw himself into with the same boundless energy he uses to attack life. 

Instead, first impressions of Boris Johnson as he faced the nation for the first time in a fortnight were of a man still adjusting to life after his terrifying brush with death’s pale rider. 

Such softly-softly cautiousness was also reflected in what he had to say. This was more a pep talk than a plan of action. He was clear that he would not be hounded into ending the lockdown just yet.

‘Bear with me’ was the general tone. ‘We’re making progress but there’s a while to go yet.’ 

None of this should have come as much of a surprise. After all, here was someone who has felt the icy grip of this pernicious disease, which left him face down in an intensive care unit with doctors pumping oxygen into his struggling lungs. 

Boris Johnson is pictured giving an address outside No10 Downing Street on Monday after recovering from coronavirus 

It is almost impossible to conceive such an ordeal wouldn’t make him think twice about sending people back to work while the death toll still flourishes. 

There could be no doubt, though, that the PM looked in far better fettle since we last saw him. 

During his Easter Day message, in which he gave thanks to the nurses who saved his life, he bore the sepulchral appearance of a man who been passed through a wringer. 

Yesterday, a flush of rouge finally returned to those pasty cheeks. His eyes, which in that emotional last video had glistened with fear, had rediscovered a bit of their old twinkle. For the first time in weeks, we saw flashes of that daft, Honey Monster smile. First up came an apology. 

‘I’m sorry I’ve been away from my desk longer than I’d have liked,’ he said with theatrical understatement. 

Here was an immediate reminder of what we’d been missing these past weeks – a Prime Minister who can raise a smile amid the horror. Even the plod guarding the No 10 doorway gave a little smirk. A mid the familiar arm waving and thumb jabbing which followed, there came plenty of headmasterly encouragement. 

He emerged hesitantly, tiptoeing gently down the steps of Downing Street like a winter swimmer wading into the icy foam, writes HENRY DEEDES 

Boris thanked the nation for the ‘grit and guts’ they had shown during the lockdown. Our sense of national resolve had left us ‘on the brink’ of achieving our ‘first mission’ in helping the NHS to keep functioning. Had that really been the public’s ‘mission’? 

Most of us have simply been doing as instructed this past month. But Boris loves a bit of military speak. Later, he spoke of ‘turning the tide’ and ‘pressing home the advantage’. There was little here which we had not heard from ministers in his absence. 

We got the usual stuff about not wanting all our hard work go to waste now by ending the lockdown too early. 

But Boris’s delivery always gives that extra lift, that gentle squeeze of the cheeks which insists all will come rosy in the end. For all Dominic Raab’s delicate handling of the crisis in his absence, the Foreign Secretary will never be a deliverer of eve-ofthe-battle speeches. 

We heard the coronavirus being compared to ‘a physical assailant, an unexpected, invisible mugger’ which needed ‘wrestling to the ground’. There was a noticeable wince as he said this. Is it possible the PM is still feeling a few aftershocks of his illness? His voice was more wispy than usual. 

At times, he appeared slightly breathless when he finished his sentences. It does seem to linger, this ruddy thing. 

Five weeks since my own (mercifully) brief encounter with it, there remains an irritating croak in my voice. We were near the end of ‘phase one’ of this crisis, said Boris, but it was vital everyone kept their patience. 

He insisted he was all too aware of the frustrations the country was experiencing. ‘I know how hard and how stressful it has been to give up, even temporarily, those ancient and basic freedoms, not seeing friends, not seeing loved ones,’ he said. 

First impressions of Boris Johnson as he faced the nation for the first time in a fortnight were of a man still adjusting to life after his terrifying brush with death’s pale rider, writes HENRY DEEDES

As he spoke, I couldn’t help notice the children’s drawings in the windows behind him sending messages of support to the NHS. 

Usually this sort of thing looks gooey but it seemed oddly touching with a new tot about to arrive in Downing Street. To business owners, whom he praised as the ‘wealth creators’ of the UK economy, the PM was particularly apologetic. ‘I understand your impatience, I understand your anxiety,’ he said. 

Was this a message to UK plc that he had not lost his nerve? Some have wondered whether the PM would be scarred by his recent hospitalisation, making him more hesitant to lift the lockdown. 

There was a pledge to bring opposition parties into the tent. Whether this meant he would involve them in decision making or simply keep them in the loop on government decisions wasn’t clear. 

So far, Sir Keir Starmer has preferred to keep his distance, but things may start to get awkward for him if Boris insists on getting him involved. The pair’s first meeting at PMQs tomorrow should be interesting. The Prime Minister ended by calling on the country to summon the spirit of fundraising hero Captain Tom Moore. 

If we could all show some of the old boy’s gumption, said Boris, he was sure the UK would emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before. 

And with that one, he offered one last grin of defiance before turning to embark once again on the most important week of his life. Not quite the speech to stir the juices, but it felt good to have him back all the same. 

Boris ‘the boxer’ Johnson is battling back to fitness but signs show he’s still very much recovering, reveals body language expert – as TV doctor warns PM may be putting health at risk by returning to work so soon

By Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter for MailOnline 

Boris Johnson came out fighting today ‘after taking a pasting’ from coronavirus – but cannot possibly be feeling 100 per cent so soon after leaving intensive care, experts told MailOnline today.

Mail Online’s body language expert said the Prime Minister showed ‘flashes of the old Boris’ in his speech from the steps of Number 10 and said he ‘like a boxer beginning to fight back’. 

Drawing on his own battle, Mr Johnson said: ‘If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger – which I can tell you from personal experience it is – then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.’

Many viewers were happy the PM is on the road to recovery – but doctors said he has was still looking worse for wear after his battle with Covid-19, having admitted ‘it could have gone either way’ in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital earlier this month.

Body language expert Judi James described watching an ‘undeniably weary-looking, this was Boris with the fun sucked out of his bones’.

Doctors said that Boris Johnson will not be feeling 100 per cent despite starting back at work today

She said: ‘As he emerged from No 10 and walked awkwardly to the lectern, holding his arms out and away from his body as though to aid his balance. When he looked up to camera his eyes wore a haunted look despite the fact his mouth was puckered into a part-smile. 

‘He leant heavily on the lectern with both arms and a sizeable part of his speech involved pauses between words during some of his simplest key messages.

‘Boris did seem to slowly re-gain some of his more energetic and emphatic moves with time, though, rather like a boxer beginning to fight back after taking a pasting. 

‘His hands started to form fists and by the end he had thrown about seven unconvincing and four clunking air-punches as he began to rally the country and motivate those of us on lock-down. 

‘There were flashes of the old Boris we saw during Brexit here, but looking at his demeanor at the beginning of his speech I would suggest we don’t underestimate the size of the personal physical challenge for him on this return to business’. 

While TV doctor and Gp Dr Arun Ghosh told MailOnline:  ‘He’s lost weight and muscle mass which could explain why we looked tired in the face. 

Body expert Judi James said Boris ‘leant heavily’ on the lectern in Downing Street as he urged people to stick with the lockdown

‘Normally people in his position would take several weeks to recover and be back to normal. 

‘So for coming back after two weeks of such a serious illness its impossible for him to be 100%. 

‘I just hope the pressure of such a position doesn’t put his health back at risk. I’m sure his doctors will be closely monitoring him’.

While broadcaster Dr Rob Hicks said: ‘It’s very good to see Mr Johnson up and about again, He looked and sounded drained, but this is hardly surprising given what he’s endured’

The 55-year-old Prime Minister spent three nights in intensive care following his admittance on April 5 to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, and later revealed his struggle with Covid-19 ‘could have gone either way’ during that period.

Speaking outside Downing Street to mark his return, Mr Johnson said he was ‘sorry I have been away from my desk for much longer than I would have liked’.

Timeline: Boris’s battle with coronavirus 

March 26: Boris Johnson announces he has tested positive for coronavirus in a Twitter video and continues working in self-isolation from his Number 11 flat.

April 5: Downing Street says the PM has been taken to St Thomas’ Hospital as a precaution after displaying persistent symptoms.

April 6: Mr Johnson is moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit after his condition worsened, but does not require ventilation. Dominic Raab begins to deputise for the PM.

April 9: He was moved out of intensive care and back on to the normal ward.

April 11: The PM was discharged from hospital. He thanked NHS staff for saving his life in a video recorded from Downing Street before heading to Chequers with his pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds.

April 26: Mr Johnson arrives back in Number 10 as he prepares to return to work. 

He said the UK was on its way to tackling coronavirus after social distancing measures had ensured the NHS had not been overwhelmed during the peak of the infections. 

While at Chequers last week, the Conservative Party leader was in regular talks with those leading the UK coronavirus response, including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was deputising for the PM, but this week will see him leading the Government in public once again.

The 55-year-old Prime Minister spent three nights in intensive care following his admittance on April 5 to St Thomas’ Hospital.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, another leading figure in the battle against Covid-19, responded to Mr Johnson’s public appearance, tweeting: ‘Great to see the boss back and on top form.’

Nadine Dorries, the first minister to be diagnosed with the virus, said the PM was back to work quicker than many others would be in his situation.

‘Most who have been as poorly as Boris Johnson with Covid-19 and a patient for a week in intensive care would be off work for at least three months to fully recover their strength and repair their immune system,’ the health minister tweeted.

‘Our PM is back after just three weeks. Good luck boss.’

Edward Argar, a fellow health minister, said he was ‘hugely pleased’ to see Mr Johnson ‘back at work today with his health fully restored’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the PM would be ‘looking very carefully’ at how to lift the lockdown measures now that he was back at the helm.

During his speech outside Number 10, Mr Johnson promised ‘transparency’ over future decisions on social distancing and vowed to involve businesses and opposition parties when deciding a way forward. 


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