LONDON: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday (Mar 19) said he was confident the country can slow the spread of coronavirus in the next three months through tough measures to cut social contact.

The government earlier this week called for more people to work from home, and avoid public transport, pubs, clubs and restaurants, to try to slow infection rates.

A shopper peruses near-empty shelves at a supermarket in the centre of York, northern England.
(OLI SCARFF/AFP)

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READ: London stations close as UK tries to halt virus spread

The UK death toll has risen to 144, and the government has unveiled plans for emergency powers to deal with the spiralling outbreak, including forced testing for suspected cases.

READ: More loved ones are going to die from coronavirus, warns British PM Johnson

But Johnson said he was “absolutely confident” the situation could be improved, depending on “resolute, determined, collective action”, as well as more testing and diagnostics.

He told a news conference: “I do think, looking at it all, we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks … but only if we all take the steps that we have outlined.

“That’s vital. That’s how we are going to reduce the peak,” he said.

Asked about his reasoning, he conceded: “I cannot stand here and tell you that we will have by the end of June, that we will be on a downward slope. It’s possible.

“But I simply can’t say that that’s for certain. Of course not. We don’t know where we are and we don’t know how long this thing will go on for.

“But what I can say is that this is going to be finite. We will turn the tide and I can see how to do it within the next 12 weeks.”

Britain does not currently routinely test for anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms and instead recommends people stay at home to protect the elderly and those with existing health conditions.

Latest health ministry figures said there were 3,229 confirmed cases but government chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance has said a “reasonable” estimate was that 55,000 had the virus.

Johnson said talks were under way to buy “literally hundreds of thousands” of antibody testing kits as soon as possible, to determine who had already contracted COVID-19 but recovered.

“Obviously it has the potential to be a total game changer,” he told reporters.

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