Coronavirus | Prime Minister Johnson spent night in ICU, not on ventilator, clarifies UK government

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  

It’s not common for the health details of British Prime Ministers to be made public, except at times of crisis. Mr. Johnson had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent the night in the intensive care unit of a London hospital with the new coronavirus, but is not on a ventilator, a senior government minister said Tuesday, as pressure grew on the government to release more details of Mr. Johnson’s condition.

Mr. Johnson was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital late Sunday, 10 days after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the first major world leader to be confirmed to have the virus. He was moved to the ICU Monday after his condition deteriorated. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said Mr. Johnson is being given oxygen but “the Prime Minister is not on a ventilator.”

Mr. Gove said Mr. Johnson is “receiving the very, very best care from the team at St. Thomas’ and our hopes and prayers are with him and with his family.”

“We’re desperately hoping that Mr. Boris can make the speediest possible recovery,” said Mr. Gove, who is in isolation at home after a family member showed mild coronavirus symptoms. Mr. Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, is herself recovering from coronavirus symptoms.

Foreign Secretary stands in

Britain has no official post of Deputy Prime Minister, but Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been designated to take over temporarily. “The government’s business will continue,” Mr. Raab said late Monday. He said Mr. Johnson asked him “to deputize for him where needed in driving forward the government’s plans to defeat coronavirus.”

The deterioration of Mr. Johnson’s health took many in Britain by surprise. On Monday afternoon, he tweeted that he was in good spirits and thanked the National Health Service for taking care of him and others with the disease. The government was facing calls Tuesday to be more transparent about Mr. Johnson’s condition amid claims they had underplayed its seriousness.

It’s not common for the health details of British Prime Ministers to be made public, except at times of crisis. Even then, information has sometimes been scanty. When Winston Churchill suffered a debilitating stroke in 1953, the government kept it secret until Churchill recovered. Mr. Johnson had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26.

The Prime Minister chaired daily meetings on the outbreak until Sunday. He released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation urging Britons to stay home and observe social distancing measures to help slow the spread of the virus. Concerns had been growing about Mr. Johnson’s welfare ever since he posted a message Friday in which he appeared red-eyed and flushed, saying that he was feeling better, though was still feverish.

Mr. Johnson’s former communications director, Will Walden, said the Prime Minister tended to try to soldier on through illness rather than taking a break. “He’s pretty stoic and can be a bit bloody-minded about that kind of thing,” he told the BBC.

News that Mr. Johnson had been transferred to intensive care drew an outpouring of support from around the world.

Support from around the world

U.S. President Donald Trump said “Americans are all praying for his recovery.”

“He’s been a really good friend,” Mr. Trump said during a White House press briefing. “He’s been really something very special — strong, resolute, doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up.”

The President said he asked two “leading companies” to contact officials in London about therapeutics that could be of help. He did not identify the companies, but said “we have contacted all of Boris’s doctors, and we’ll see what’s going to take place, but they are ready to go.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that he was sending his support to Mr. Johnson, his family and “the British people at this difficult time. I wish him well.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram wishing Johnson a full and quick recovery, the Kremlin said. “I’m positive that your energy, optimism and sense of humour will help combat the disease,” Mr. Putin wrote. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II was being kept informed about Mr. Johnson’s condition.

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. The government said Monday that 51,608 people had been confirmed to have the coronavirus in Britain, 5,373 of whom have died.

Britain’s unwritten constitution does not have a clear rule for what happens if a Prime Minister becomes incapacitated or dies. Seven Prime Ministers have died in office, but the most recent was in 1865. Mr. Johnson delegating Mr. Raab to fill in for him clarifies things for now, but it does not mean Mr. Raab would automatically take over permanently should a new leader be needed. If it became clear Mr. Johnson could not return to his job, the Conservative Party could elect a new leader, who would become Prime Minister.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 8:25:08 PM |

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