Boris Johnson claims the UK will 'turn the tide' on coronavirus within 12 weeks
Boris Johnson has claimed that the UK can "turn the tide" on the coronavirus outbreak within 12 weeks - but admitted the number of new cases could still be rising by the end of June.
The Prime Minister said he was "absolutely confident we can send coronavirus packing" if the public follow the advice issued by the Government on avoiding the deadly illness.
But in a surprise admission, Mr Johnson said the disease "does not seem yet to be responding to our interventions" and said he had no idea how long the crisis will last.
He also dropped a huge hint that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will on Friday announce a multi-billion package of direct help for workers facing redundancy as a result of the outbreak.
Speaking at his latest Downing Street press conference on the outbreak, the PM said: “I am conscious that as the days have gone by that people will want to know how long we are expecting to keep it up.
“And I wanted to say something today about how I see the timetable of this campaign.
“I do think we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks, and I'm absolutely confident we can send coronavirus packing in this country, but only if we all take the steps outlined.”
Mr Johnson said the first British volunteer had taken part in trials of a new drug for treating the disease.
The UK is also in negotiations for a test which can establish whether someone has had the virus and is therefore immune - a development which he said could be a “gamechanger” in the battle against the virus.
And he said the Government’s aim was to increase the number of coronavirus tests to 250,000 a day.
But he struck a more pessimistic tone later in the press conference when he said: “What I want us to do is to get on top of it. And at the moment, the disease is proceeding in a way that does not seem yet to be responding to our interventions.
“I believe a combination of the measures that we are asking the public to take, and better testing, scientific progress, will enable us to get on top of it within the next 12 weeks, and turn the tide.
“I cannot stand here and tell you we will have by the end of June, that we will be on the downward slope. It is possible, but I simply can't say that that is for certain, of course not.
“We don't know where we are, we don't know how long this thing will go on for. What I can say is this is going to be finite, we will turn the tide and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeks."
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson paved the way for the Chancellor to outline a further package which could put cash directly into the pockets of workers until the crisis is over.
It follows calls by former Tory Business Secretary Greg Clark - as well as Labour and the unions - for the Government to effectively pay employees’ wages to ensure they still have jobs in the future.
The PM said: “It is very, very important everybody understands we will stick by business and I hope business will stick by their employees.
“This country is going to bounce back. We are going to need some fantastic companies to bounce back as well. It is absolutely vital that everyone understands that.
“The Chancellor will be saying more tomorrow about the package we are putting in place for workers across the country to support everybody through this difficult time.
“We have been talking to the trades unions and others today, and we think we will have a great package ready to go. So, I hope people will stick by their employees because we are going to need them.”