(Bloomberg) — Boris Johnson said Britain may not be free of the coronavirus “for some time to come,” an admission that highlights the difficult task he has of convincing people to return to work as the nation’s death toll from Covid-19 remains the highest in Europe.
In an op-ed article for The Mail on Sunday, Johnson said his government will spend 93 million pounds ($113 million) on a vaccine research center in Oxfordshire and that the site will open in summer 2021, a year ahead of schedule.
Wealthier governments are maneuvering to get first rights on potential vaccines — Covid-19 has killed more than 310,000 people globally, upended the way people go about their daily lives, and cratered economies.
“We have to acknowledge we may need to live with this virus for some time to come,” Johnson wrote. “We need to find new ways to control the virus. We will do that through testing and tracing.”
Johnson’s article — much of it a One Nation-style rallying cry that referred to the “good sense of the British people” — sought to draw a line under one of the more chaotic few days of his premiership following his televised address to the nation last weekend. He dropped the “stay at home” message for “stay alert,” a shift that left many Britons confused as to what they were allowed to do outside, and whether they should risk returning to work.
According to a poll published in the Observer newspaper, support for the government is waning. For the first time since Opinium began tracking views on the pandemic in March, more people disapprove of the government’s handling than approve.
Under pressure from his own Conservative Party to ease Britain out of the lockdown and revive an economy plunging toward recession, Johnson is trying to encourage a skeptical electorate that they should return to offices and, particularly, send their children back to primary schools next month.
Under the government’s plans, more schools and some shops will be reopened no earlier than June, while some pubs and restaurants can resume business no earlier than July.
“In return for the small freedoms we are allowing ourselves, we must stay alert,” Johnson said. “We must do so in the knowledge that our self-discipline will, eventually, lead to the return of our much-missed normality.”