Boris Johnson suggests coronavirus lockdown will be loosened on Monday | World news

Boris Johnson has signalled that some lockdown measures will be eased on Monday, as he set a new target of 200,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

In his first prime minister’s questions since recovering from coronavirus, Johnson said he would give a statement on Sunday on plans for an “unlockdown”, with a view to making changes on Monday.

Possible areas for change could be allowing more outdoor activities and making clear ways in which businesses could get employees back to work with looser physical distancing.

A review of the lockdown will be carried out on Thursday, but the prime minister said the data which would contribute to the easing of physical distancing measures was still coming in, which was why he had decided to release information to the public over the weekend. He said people needed to know the day before what would change on Monday 11 May.

Johnson said there would be the opportunity for the Commons to debate and interrogate him or the government at a later date – in a hint that he may try to dodge appearing before parliament to answer questions himself next week.

However, a spokesman for Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said: “We are very clear that the PM should be making a statement to the Commons. It is his plan, his proposal and it should be him. We will be expecting him in the chamber on Monday.”

Under questioning from Starmer, Johnson also made a new commitment to carrying out 200,000 tests a day by the end of this month.

The Labour leader highlighted the UK having fallen back in testing below the 100,000 target reached at the end of last week, and questioned why the government abandoned community testing early in March.

Johnson responded with a new pledge to ramp up testing even further, saying: “The ambition is to get up to 200,000 tests a day by the end of this month and then go higher. A testing regime is going to be critical to our long-term economic recovery.”

The government claims to have hit a previous target of 100,000 tests by the end of April, but the tally has fallen back since then, and tens of thousands of those were tests sent out by post that had not been completed.

Following the exchanges in the Commons, Starmer’s spokesman said: “We will hold him to that commitment and ask that the prime minister sets out a previous commitment to 250,000 tests a day.”

Johnson took a conciliatory tone overall, as Starmer challenged the prime minister to explain “how on earth” he could claim the UK’s coronavirus response had been successful when it had the highest number of deaths in Europe.

Starmer, who was elected Labour leader last month, said it could not be counted as “success or apparent success” that 29,427 had died, exceeding the tolls of Italy, France and Spain. “Can the prime minister tell us how on earth did it come to this?” he asked.

Johnson said every death was a tragedy and that Starmer was “right to draw attention to the appalling statistics not just in this country but around the world”.

But he insisted that it was not possible to make accurate scientific comparisons of death rates around the world, despite the government’s own slides showing the UK in the worst position in Europe.

“At this stage, I don’t think that with international comparisons the data is there to draw all the conclusions that we want,” he said, stressing that ministers “were governed by overriding principles to save lives and protect the NHS”.

“Of course there will be a time to look at decisions we took and if we could have taken different decisions,” he added.

Starmer went on to challenge Johnson over the UK having been slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on tracing and slow on PPE.

The UK government has said that these five tests have to be met before they will consider easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions:

  • The NHS has sufficient capacity to provide critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK
  • A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from Coronavirus
  • Reliable data to show that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
  • Operational challenges including testing and personal protective equipement (PPE) are in hand with supply able to meet future demand
  • Confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS

In response, the prime minister acknowledged that it had been limited capacity for testing that led the UK to abandon widespread testing early on. “It’s easier to do now on the way out than it was as the epidemic took off. And I think most people with common sense can see the particular problems we had at the time.”

Starmer also pressed Johnson on the crisis in care homes, saying: “Why hasn’t the government got to grips with this already?” Johnson said he “bitterly regretted” the outbreaks causing thousands of deaths among the vulnerable elderly but insisted there had been a “palpable improvement” in the last few days.

On the government’s problems with sourcing and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), the prime minister said it had been “enraging” but domestic production was now increasing.

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