Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson displays Get Well Soon cards sent in by children while he was ill with the novel coronavirus. Photo: AFP

The British government is expected to unveil plans to ease the country out of lockdown this week, amid indications of a phased approach to keep infection rates low.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country was “past the peak” of the outbreak and will outline a “roadmap” for lifting stringent measures imposed in late March.

According to the latest figures, 28,131 have died in Britain, just short of Europe’s worst-hit country, Italy. But hospital admissions and infection rates are down.

Johnson himself contracted Covid-19 and spent three nights in intensive care. He revealed in a Sunday newspaper interview plans were put in place in case he died.

“It was a tough old moment, I won’t deny it,” he told the Sun on Sunday. “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario,” he added.

Asked about the government’s plan, as ministers review the lockdown on Thursday, transport minister Grant Shapps said: “It’s definitely not going to be business as usual.”

Weekend newspaper reports said primary schools could reopen in early June and that commuters taking public transport could face temperature checks.

Worst recession in history

A quarantine period for people travelling to Britain by air has also been suggested. Shapps said it was a “serious point under consideration”.

“I’m actively looking at this issue right now, so when we have infection rates under control within the country we’re not importing,” he told BBC television.

Britain ordered all non-essential shops and services to close on March 23, told people to stay at home except to shop for groceries and medicines and to exercise once a day.

The measures, which were extended on April 16, have hit the economy, with the Bank of England warning it could lead to the worst recession in centuries.

But an opinion poll for the weekly Observer newspaper indicated widespread public support for continuing the restrictions. 

Fewer than one in five believed it was the right time to consider reopening schools, restaurants, pubs and sports stadiums.

Concerns have been expressed about how to maintain social distancing guidelines by young children, and also  over-crowding on public transport.

Johnson has said the use of face masks could be “useful” as the country re-opens. 

Cross-Channel train operator Eurostar on Saturday said face masks covering the mouth and nose would be compulsory on  services between London, Paris and Brussels from Monday.

Britain is banking on an enhanced testing regime and contact tracing, including via a smartphone app, to monitor transmission rates and prevent a second wave of infection.

In his first detailed comments about his illness, Johnson told the Sun on Sunday that doctors were prepared to announce his death after he was taken to intensive care.

“I was not in particularly brilliant shape and I was aware there were contingency plans in place. The doctors had all sorts of arrangements for what to do if things went badly wrong.”

Johnson, 55, first announced he had contracted Covid-19 on March 27 but maintained he had only mild symptoms. Yet he failed to shake the illness after a week of self-isolation.

He was taken to hospital as a precaution on April 5 for further tests but within 24 hours was moved to intensive care.

‘An extraordinary thing’

The Conservative party leader spent three days receiving “oxygen support”, and admitted after his discharge on April 12 that his fight with the virus “could have gone either way”.

But although he told the newspaper he did think “how am I going to get out of this?”, he did not think at any point he was going to die.

Johnson, who returned to work last Monday and became a father again when his fiancee Carrie Symonds gave birth on Wednesday, said he was given “litres and litres” of oxygen in hospital.

He said he felt frustrated he was not getting better but the reality hit home when doctors were deliberating whether to intubate him and put him on a ventilator.

“That was when it got a bit… they were starting to think about how to handle it presentationally,” he told the weekly tabloid.

Johnson has repeatedly paid tribute to staff of the state-run National Health Service (NHS) for their care.

He and Symonds’ baby boy, Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson, is named in part after two of the doctors who led his care — doctors Nick Price and Nick Hart.

Both are experts in infectious diseases and ventilation.

Symonds, 32, said in an Instagram post earlier to announce the boy’s name that Hart and Price “saved Boris’ life last month”.

The Sun on Sunday said Johnson was emotional when recalling his treatment and recovery, which he called “an extraordinary thing”.

He said he had been “in denial” about the seriousness of his condition at first, as he tried to continue to work despite feeling “pretty groggy”.

He also said he did not want to go to hospital at first but doctors were adamant because of his low oxygen levels. “Looking back, they were right to force me to go,” he said.

Johnson said the experience had made him more determined to fight the disease and get the country back to normal.

His comments came as the government announced 621 more deaths in the outbreak, taking the overall cumulative toll to 28,131 — just behind Europe’s worst-hit country, Italy.

AFP