Boris Johnson will reveal lockdown plan next week for economy, schools and ...

The Prime Minister insisted the national lockdown had forced the infection rate into a downward slope. He praised the public for helping to avoid "an uncontrollable and catastrophic epidemic". Mr Johnson also promised to unveil a comprehensive plan for easing the lockdown next week. But he also warned that people will have to maintain widespread social distancing to prevent a second outbreak.

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The Prime Minister confirmed Britain was turning the tide against the killer virus at his first news conference since returning to work after his recovery.

His return came as the UK death toll rose by 674 yesterday to 26,771.

The figure includes deaths from the virus in hospitals, care homes and the wider community. Mr Johnson praised the public for "rising to a challenge we have never seen in our lifetimes.

"It is thanks to that massive collective effort to shield the NHS that we avoided an uncontrollable and catastrophic epidemic, where the reasonable worst case scenario was 500,000 deaths.

"And so I can confirm today for the first time that we are past the peak of this disease.

"We are past the peak and we are on the downward slope, and we have so many reasons to be hopeful for the long term."

Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson declared is now 'past the peak' of the coronavirus outbreak (Image: PA Video/PA Wire/PA Images)

Mr Johnson said the UK was leading the international race to find a vaccine. He hailed a new partnership between Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca "to develop what they believe could soon be a means of inoculating ourselves against this disease".

He added: "But until this day comes, and I am afraid we cannot say exactly when it may be, we will have to beat this disease by our growing resolve and ingenuity. So I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week.

"We have

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