THE Prime Minister has said lockdown measures could start to be eased from Monday, as he set a new goal for increasing coronavirus testing capacity.
Boris Johnson marked his return to the Commons by setting an ambition for creating the capacity for 200,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month.
In his first Prime Minister's Questions since recovering from Covid-19 and the birth of son Wilfred, Mr Johnson said he "bitterly" regretted the Covid-19 crisis in care homes and expressed frustration about problems supplying personal protective equipment.
Mr Johnson will set out plans for easing the lockdown in a speech on Sunday, with some measures possibly being introduced the following day.
He said: "We have to be sure the data is going to support our ability to do this.
"That data is coming in continuously over the next few days.
"We want, if we possibly can, to get going with some of these measures on Monday.
"It would be a good thing if the people had an idea of what’s coming the following day, that’s why I think Sunday – the weekend – is the best time to do it."
Downing Street stressed that "it is not going to be a case of flicking a switch" to lift all measures at once, instead "people will have to prepare for a different type of normal".
Mr Johnson faced Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons for the first time and was accused of being too slow to respond to the outbreak, leaving the UK with the highest death toll in Europe.
The Government met its 100,000-a-day testing target by the end of April but has failed to maintain that level in early May.
But Downing Street made clear the new target – unlike the previous goal – was for the capacity to conduct 200,000 tests rather than the number performed every day.
The route out of lockdown will rely on increased capacity as part of a test, track and trace programme to quickly identify new cases of coronavirus and prevent the further spread of the infection.
Although hospital deaths are falling, ministers and officials have struggled to get a grip on the crisis in care homes – where some of the most vulnerable people risk contracting the disease.
Mr Johnson said: "There is an epidemic going on in care homes which is something I bitterly regret and we have been working very hard for weeks to get it down and a huge amount of effort has been gone into by literally tens of thousands of people to get the right PPE into care homes, to encourage workers in care homes to understand what is needed.”
He said there had been a "palpable improvement" in the situation in care homes in recent days.
Sir Keir said problems with PPE supply are "going to get even more acute if and when the Government ask people to return to work" as more people will need masks and other protective kit to do their jobs.
Mr Johnson said “it has been enraging to see the difficulties we’ve had in supplying PPE to those who need it” but there was “a massive plan” to increase production in the UK.