Coronavirus: Can we really 'turn the tide' on the outbreak in 12 weeks?

Beth Rigby, political editor

It was but seven days ago that Boris Johnson delivered a news conference in Downing Street telling us all to carry on our business as normal, unless we had a fever or cough. 

Now our schools are closing, the elderly and vulnerable are about to be asked to stay at home for three months, and London is all but shutting down.

People are losing their jobs, fretting about how to pay their bills.

Businesses are going under as families worry about getting in enough food.

It takes just a week to build dystopia.

For millions of Britons, the past few days have felt bewildering, overwhelming, frightening, which is perhaps why Mr Johnson decided at his daily briefing that he needed to give us all a little bit of hope.

"I do think looking at it all, we can turn the tide in the next 12 weeks," the prime minister told the nation at his weekly press conference.

"I'm confident we can send this virus packing in this country, but only if we all take steps we have outlined - that is vital."

His two weapons in the fight against coronavirus: mass testing for the disease, and stringent adherence to the rules on social distancing from all of us.

On testing, the prime minister said he hoped to get from 25,000 tests to 250,000 quickly.

This would be a mix of COVID-19 testings and the rapid rollout of a new antibodies test to show if you've had the disease which is "as simple as a pregnancy test".

Such tests would be critical in managing the spread of the disease and also reducing social and economic disruption by getting key workers back to their jobs. A genuine gamechanger.

And then for all us, a plea again to follow the advice on social distancing, working from home, avoiding pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Turning the tide appears predicated on human behaviour and the speed of scientific breakthroughs.

It's little wonder then that the prime minister rowed back on his perhaps more bullish predictions during the course of the press conference when pressed again on our 12-week 'exit' date.

"At the moment, the disease is proceeding in a way that does not seem yet to be responding to our interventions," he said.

"I believe that a combination of the measures asking the public to take and better testing - scientific progress - will enable us to get on top of it and turn the tide.

"I cannot stand here and tell you by the end of June we will be on a downward slope. It's possible, but I simply can't say that for certain."

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When it comes to the science, the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallace acknowledged at the press conference on Thursday there was still an "if" around whether the antibody test can be applied - and he shied away from repeating the prime minister's quarter of a million figure.

As for the social measures, the prime minister himself admitted at the briefing that the success of such endeavours depended on "collective resolute action".

He conceded that in pockets of the capital, some Londoners were ignoring the government's advice.

"There is some evidence in some parts of the capital, that it's very patchy, that people are not perhaps following [the advice] in the way we need them to do it," he said.

Over half of the 29 coronavirus deaths today were in the capital.

And if you look at the mortality trajectories tracker, the UK remains on a steeper mortality curve than Italy, while also remaining far from lockdown.

More measures are likely to come in the capital of Londoners don't shut themselves down.

Over this weekend, millions of Britons will have to retreat from society and human contact.

It is an incredible ask.

The prime minister has tried to sugar coat a bitter pill with the promise that the end is in sight.

But he can't really know that, and neither can we.