Boris Johnson’s spokesman says the British prime minister is “responding to treatment” but remains in intensive care with the new coronavirus
JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA Associated Press
April 8, 2020, 12:35 PM
5 min read
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “responding to treatment” but remains in intensive care with the new coronavirus, his spokesman said Wednesday.
The U.K. government, meanwhile, sought to keep a grip on its response to the pandemic with its leader in hospital and the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths continuing to grow.
Johnson has spent two nights in the ICU of St. Thomas’ Hospital. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 and still had a cough and fever 10 days later. He was admitted to the hospital on Sunday and moved to the ICU on Monday after his condition deteriorated.
Johnson spokesman James Slack said the prime minister continues to receive “standard oxygen treatment” and is breathing without any other assistance.
Slack declined to provide further details of Johnson’s treatment, saying Wednesday’s update “was given to us by St. Thomas’ Hospital and it contains all of the information which the PM’s medical team considers to be clinically relevant.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is hospitalized. Raab chaired a meeting of the government’s COVID-19 crisis committee, as the number of virus-related deaths reported in the U.K. approached the levels seen in the worst-hit European nations, Italy and Spain.
The country’s confirmed death toll reached 6,159 as of Tuesday, an increase of 786 from 24 hours earlier. That was the biggest daily leap to date, although the deaths reported Tuesday occurred over several days.
The virus has hit people from all walks of life — including Johnson, the first world leader known to have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The 55-year-old prime minister was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital late Sunday with a fever and cough that persisted 10 days after he tested positive for the virus.
He was moved to the ICU on Monday night after his condition deteriorated. The fact that he has not been placed on a ventilator suggests that at least it has not worsened further.
Johnson’s illness has unleashed a wave of sympathy for the prime minister, including from his political opponents. It has also heightened public unease about the government’s response to the outbreak, which faced criticism even with the energetic Johnson at the helm.
Britain was slower than many other European nations to close schools, shut businesses and restrict people’s movements in a bid to curb infections, and the government has struggled to meet its goal of dramatically increasing the number of individuals tested for the virus.
Slack defended the government’s response.
“We took our decisions based on the best available medical and scientific advice,” he said. “We believe we acted with the right measures at the right rime.”
Raab is now leading the country’s response to the pandemic, but in other areas his authority is limited. He can’t fire Cabinet ministers or senior officials, and he won’t hold the prime minister’s weekly audience with Queen Elizabeth II.
In the British political system, the prime minister’s power lies less in the role’s specific responsibilities — which are relatively few — than in the leader’s political capital and authority as “first among equals” in the Cabinet.
That’s especially true in Johnson’s government, which is made up of relatively inexperienced ministers appointed by a prime minister with a big personality and a hefty personal mandate from a resounding election victory in December.
In Johnson’s absence, it’s unclear who would decide whether to ease nationwide lockdown measures the British government imposed on March 23 in response the worldwide pandemic. The initial three-week period set for the restrictions expires next week, but with cases and deaths still growing, officials say it is too soon to change course.
“We need to start seeing the numbers coming down,” Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC. “That’s when you have a sense, when that’s sustained over a period of time, that you can see it coming out of that.
“We’re not there yet and I don’t exactly know when we will be.”
Meanwhile, officials are watching anxiously to see whether Britain’s hospitals can cope when the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients reaches its peak. Before the outbreak, the U.K. had about 5,000 intensive care beds, and the government has been scrambling to increase that capacity.
The Nightingale Hospital — a temporary facility for coronavirus patients built in nine days at London’s vast ExCel conference center — admitted its first patients on Wednesday. It can accommodate 4,000 beds, if needed. Seven other temporary hospitals are being built around the country, including a facility in Birmingham due to open Friday.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the city, which is the epicenter of Britain’s outbreak, had one-quarter of its existing hospital beds still available, as well as the new Nightingale hospital.
“It demonstrates the can-do attitude of not just Londoners but those around the country who have helped us get ready for the peak of this virus,” he said.