LONDON—Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce plans this week to get Britain “moving again,” with measures to boost infrastructure construction after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted, interior minister Priti Patel said on June 28.
Johnson will set out plans in a speech on June 30 to fast-track building projects such as hospitals, schools, housing, and road and rail infrastructure, part of efforts to try to stem a decline in support for his government.
The British leader has been criticized for his response to the coronavirus crisis, with opposition parties and some scientists saying the government was too slow to order a lockdown, too slow to carry out widespread testing, and not clear in its messaging.
But Johnson, who won a large majority in last year’s election, hopes to revive his fortunes by returning to his pledges to “level up” Britain by focusing spending on traditional Labour-supporting areas that backed his Conservative Party.
“It’s an important plan … As we move out of this awful, awful period of coronavirus, this dreadful disease, we want to get Britain moving again,” Patel told Sky News.
“We are building now very much a road to recovery, a roadmap, focusing on infrastructure right now … focused on roads, broadband, the type of things that effectively help to create jobs but also provide services and economic growth and opportunity around the country.”
Despite the likely questions over the bill for such works, Johnson repeated that his government wouldn’t return to the austerity policies seen under Conservative former Prime Minister David Cameron. He told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that he would act fast “to build our way back to health”.
According to pollster Opinium, more of the public favor opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer as prime minister over Johnson, although the Conservatives still hold a lead in terms of voting intention.
Some scientists fear that Britain is on course for a second wave of coronavirus, not helped by some people holding parties and large gatherings after Johnson announced a further easing of England’s lockdown in early July, when pubs and restaurants can reopen.
“My concerns with the UK government are sometimes less with the substance … I’m more concerned that the messaging … seems much more that it’s all over and you can go back to doing everything as you did before,” Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, told Sky News.
Patel said people should still follow the guidelines.
“It’s important that the public realize that this virus has not disappeared at all,” she said. “We are still in a health emergency … People need to follow the guidance.”
UK Considers First Local Lockdown
Britain’s government is considering a lockdown for the central English city of Leicester amid a spike of COVID-19 cases—the first time that a single UK area would face such an extreme measure during the pandemic.
The Sunday Times first reported that a lockdown could come within days, after 658 new cases were recorded in the Leicester area in the two weeks preceding June 16. Patel acknowledged in a BBC interview June 28 that ministers were considering the move.
“There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the health secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well,’’ Patel said. “With local flare-ups, it is right we have a localized solution.’’
But Patel gave no indication of the number of people who could be affected by the local lockdown being discussed or whether the surrounding area would be affected. Leicester has a city population of 330,000.
The spike comes amid fear that the disease has been spreading through the city’s large Asian community, who often live in multi-generational households. The local outbreak underscores the disproportionate hit that the pandemic has had on Britain’s minority communities.
By Elizabeth Piper
The Associated Press contributed to this report