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Boris Johnson says COVID-19 has been a disaster for Britain

U.K. death toll third-highest in world


Social isolation as a result of COVID-19 has led to mental health issues for Canadians. (creativeneko/Getty Images)

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Monday that the coronavirus pandemic has been a “disaster” for Britain, as he announced a spending splurge designed to get the country — and his faltering Conservative government — back on track.

As the U.K. emerges from a three-month lockdown, Johnson has lined up big-money pledges on schools, housing and infrastructure, in an attempt to move on from an outbreak that has left more than 43,000 Britons dead — the worst confirmed death toll in Europe.

“This has been a disaster,” Johnson acknowledged Monday. “Let’s not mince our words. I mean, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country and the country’s gone through a profound shock.

“But in those moments, you have the opportunity to change and to do things better,” he told Times Radio. “This is a moment now to give our country the skills, the infrastructure, the long-term investment that we need.”

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Johnson promised a “Rooseveltian approach,” invoking the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped wrench the United States out of the Great Depression. Johnson’s first announcement was 1 billion pounds (US$1.25 billion) to build new schools. The British leader plans to unveil a series of other infrastructure projects this week.

Johnson won a large majority in Parliament in December with a promise to rebalance Britain’s London-dominated economy and revive the long-neglected former industrial regions of central and northern England.

Those plans were thrown into turmoil by COVID-19. The U.K.’s official death toll stood Monday at 43,575, the third-highest in the world after the United States and Brazil, and the true figure is likely higher.

“What we’re going to be doing in the next few months, is really doubling down on our initial agenda, which was all about investment … in infrastructure, in education, in technology, to bring the country together,” he said.