Boris Johnson will plunge into a hectic round of back-to-back meetings on coronavirus on his first day back in Downing Street after his life-threatening illness.
The prime minister is back at his desk in No 10 after a three-week absence and immediately faces massive decisions on the government’s next moves to stamp out the virus.
After chairing the daily COVID-19 “war cabinet” of senior ministers, Mr Johnson is expected to hold one-to-one talks with cabinet colleagues on the progress of their departments in his absence.
He is also expected to discuss plans for modifying – but not lifting – the lockdown, possibly before the 7 May deadline when the government is legally obliged to announce its next review of the rules.
Mr Johnson is eager to return directly to the political frontline by chairing the Downing Street news conferences and taking part in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, provided his doctors give the go-ahead.
After spending the past fortnight at Chequers, Mr Johnson arrived back in Downing Street with no fanfare. There was no motorcade, limousine or motorcycle outriders as he made a low-key return in a people carrier.
But according to Downing Street insiders, after his two weeks convalescing in the Buckinghamshire countryside he is “back to his normal self, excited to be back in No 10 and ready to take personal charge of the government”.
Allies claim he has “got his bounce back”, a fortnight after a stay in hospital which he claimed “could have gone either way” and prompted him to thank NHS doctors and nurses for saving his life in a video message.
Ministers are said to be delighted that he has returned so swiftly after his illness and Tory MPs will be relieved that Mr Johnson is back in control after claims of a power vacuum at the heart of government while he was away.
Mr Johnson faces a formidable in-tray as he gets back to work, however. His to-do list includes:
Lowering the COVID-19 death rate: The government says the UK is past the peak in deaths, but reducing the number of people dying with the disease remains a priority
100,000 tests per day by Thursday: The PM has just three days to reach Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s ambitious – critics say reckless – target of 100,000 tests a day
Stem the number of cases and deaths in care homes: This week will also bring more questions about the number of cases and deaths with COVID-19 in care homes
Lockdown restrictions: As the UK enters another week of lockdown, the decision of when to lift restrictions has split the cabinet and divided the business and scientific communities
In the three weeks the prime minister has been away the battle against coronavirus has greatly changed. When he went into hospital on 5 April, the number of UK deaths was under 5,000. Now it is over 20,000.
Although Mr Johnson’s return means talks on moves to ease the lockdown will now gather pace, the government is still urging the public to obey the rules and stay at home.
At the latest No 10 news conference, Professor Stephen Powis of NHS England said that while the number of patients in hospital with the disease was continuing to fall, it could easily pick back up if the restrictions were relaxed.
Outlining the latest data on deaths, he said: “My fear is that those curves won’t continue to be on a downward trend, but will start to go on an upward trend. We are not at a point where any of us can be absolutely confident that that’s not going to be the case.
“We need to remind ourselves that this has been a really tough four weeks and we don’t want to lose the benefits that have come from this. We need to keep going.”