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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Returns To Work


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ending his sick leave. He's back at work at No. 10 Downing Street in London after three weeks away with COVID-19, including time in intensive care. Johnson is urging his fellow citizens to continue a lockdown.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: This is the moment when we can press home our advantage. It is also the moment of maximum risk.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is outside London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What does Boris Johnson mean by an advantage and a risk?

LANGFITT: Well, so far, the lockdown has been pretty successful here. Overall, people are - there was periods where people were going out in parks a lot. But overall, it seems to be working. The daily infection rate is in decline. And not surprisingly, Johnson's getting more pressure from businesses, even members of his own Cabinet, to try to develop some kind of phased move out of lockdown. What he's basically saying is don't let up. You guys are doing a good job in the United Kingdom. And he's really concerned about, as we talked about in a lot of countries, the fear of a second spike. As you were pointing out, Johnson was in the intensive care unit for three nights. And speaking today outside of No. 10 Downing Street, he also talked a little bit about his own experience.


JOHNSON: 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.

INSKEEP: Hopefully that's true. But of course, there were earlier moments when Johnson could be criticized for minimizing this or saying it was OK to shake hands, just wash your hands, that sort of thing. So what is the status of the fight against the coronavirus in Britain?

LANGFITT: Well, on Saturday, the country passed the 20,000 mark on deaths in hospitals. But it's actually thought that thousands and thousands of more people have died here in nursing homes and in private homes. They don't have all the numbers for that yet. Still, many hundreds of people are dying every day here from it. But the good news is the health service did not collapse. That's certainly a success. And that was a big fear here. And officials do think that the U.K. is headed for the worst recession in the century, so Johnson has a big challenge ahead trying to balance out, as a lot of leaders are around the world, how do you begin to bring the economy back without risking the virus bouncing back?

INSKEEP: Has the prime minister's health scare changed him in any way that's apparent?

LANGFITT: You know, it's really interesting, Steve. I've been covering him now for four years. And, you know, he's an entertainer. He's a performer, a bit of a wink-and-nod schoolboy from his days at Oxford. But today, he was more serious. There was more gravitas. It's no secret that he sees this potentially as a Churchillian moment. He's a biographer of Churchill. And he followed the queen's lead from what we heard a few weeks ago from her. He referenced World War II, talked about this as a conflict. And so what's going to be really interesting to see is does this stick or does he revert to form? But certainly, in a sense, this crisis has created an opportunity for him.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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