However the rate of daily deaths is slowly falling, as are hospital admissions.
“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 to come together to wrestle it to the floor,” he said.
“And so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity, this is the moment we can press home our advantage, but it is also the moment of maximum risk. Because I know there will be many people looking now at our current success and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.”
Johnson urged the public to be patient and warned the risk of a second spike was real.
“We would be forced once again to slam on the brakes across the whole country and the whole economy. And reimpose restrictions in such a way as to do more and lasting damage.
“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 National Health Service.”
He pledged to be honest with the public about how decisions would be made to ease the lockdown, and pledged to release the modelling underpinning the scientific advice to the government.
“But we simply cannot spell out how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made,” he said.
“I want to serve notice now that these decisions will be taken with maximum transparency. We will be relying, as ever, on the science to inform us – as we have from the beginning. But we will also be reaching out to build the biggest possible consensus across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom, across party lines.”
Johnson defended the government’s response to the pandemic, which has been criticised by some health experts and MPs as too slow and loose compared to other European nations.
“We defied so many predictions. We did not run out of ventilators or intensive care beds. We did not allow our NHS to collapse.”
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.