Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s too early to lift lockdown restrictions in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Johnson made a public statement as he returned to work on Monday morning after recovering from Covid-19, which left him in intensive care.
He said the country was beginning to “turn the tide” against cornonavirus – but described now as “the moment of maximum risk”.
He stressed that meant it was still too early to consider easing restrictions, despite hailing “our apparent success”.
Coronavirus has so far claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people in the UK, including a confirmed death toll of 1249 in Scotland.
Governments have faced criticism for the lack of testing and protection equipment for frontline workers.
He said: “When we are sure that this first phase is over and that we are meeting our five tests – deaths falling, NHS protected, rate of infection down, really sorting out the challenges of testing and PPE, avoiding a second peak – then that will be the time to move on to the second phase.”
The Prime Minister thanked people for observing social-distancing restrictions, adding’: “Every day I know that this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land.”
He continued: “It is still true that this is the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war and I in no way minimise the continuing problems we face.
“And yet it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer Covid patients in ICU and real signs now that we are passing through the peak.
“And thanks to your forbearance, your good sense your altruism, your spirit of community, thanks to our collective national resolve, we are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission to prevent our National Health Service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.
“And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide.”
Johnson, drawing on his own battle with Covid-19, 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.
“And so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity, this is the moment when we can press home our advantage, it is also the moment of maximum risk.
“I know there will be many people looking at our apparent success, and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.”
He said he understood “how hard and stressful it has been to give up, even temporarily, those ancient and basic freedoms”.
But he said the potential of a second spike in cases risked “economic disaster”.
Johnson added: “And so I know it is tough. And I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.
“And I ask you to contain your impatience, because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict and in spite of all the suffering we have so nearly succeeded.
“We defied so many predictions. We did not run out of ventilators or ICU beds. We did not allow our NHS to collapse, and on the contrary we have so far collectively shielded our NHS so that our incredible doctors and nurses and healthcare staff have been able to shield all of us from an outbreak that would have been far worse and we collectively flattened the peak.”