By William James and Alistair Smout
British foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday he was confident that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in intensive care with a coronavirus infection, would pull through because “he’s a fighter”.
“He remained stable overnight. He’s receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any assistance. He has not required any mechanical ventilation or non-invasive respiratory support,” Raab told a daily news conference.
Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the government just as the United Kingdom, now in its third week of virtual lockdown, enters what scientists say will be the deadliest phase of its coronavirus epidemic, which has already killed at least 6,159 people.
Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital, across the River Thames from parliament, late on Sunday after suffering symptoms, including a fever and a cough, for more than 10 days.
But his condition rapidly deteriorated, and he was moved on Monday to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated, in case he needed to be put on a ventilator.
“He remains in good spirits and … his progress continues to be monitored in critical care,” Raab said.
The absence of Johnson, the first leader of a major power to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has raised questions about who is truly in charge at such a crucial time.
While Britain has no formal succession plan if a prime minister is incapacitated, Johnson asked Raab, 46, to deputise for him “where necessary”, Downing Street said. If Raab is incapacitated, finance minister Rishi Sunak would stand in.
“I’m confident that he’ll pull through because, if there’s one thing I know about this prime minister, he’s a fighter,” Raab said. “He’ll be back at the helm leading us through this crisis in short order.”
Queen Elizabeth wished Johnson a full and speedy recovery and sent a message of support to his pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, and his family.
Raab chaired the government’s COVID-19 emergency response meeting on Tuesday, though ministers refused to say who now had ultimate control over Britain’s nuclear weapons.
“There are well-developed protocols,” said Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who himself went into self-isolation on Tuesday after a family member displayed coronavirus symptoms.
LOCKDOWN TO BE REVIEWED
Government scientists see Britain’s daily death toll rising until at least April 12, and the government is due to decide early next week whether to start easing a near-total economic and social lockdown.
Some ministers have suggested it should be extended, after seeing some people using sunny spring weather as an excuse to flout the rules.
Tuesday’s daily death toll of 786 was the biggest to date.
The pound <GBP=D3> dipped in Asian trading on news of Johnson’s intensive care treatment but then rallied in London trading. Against the dollar, it ended the session up 0.9%. [GBP/]
Even before coronavirus, Johnson had had a tumultuous year.
He won the top job in July 2019, renegotiated a Brexit deal with the European Union, resoundingly won a snap election in December and then led the United Kingdom out of the EU on Jan. 31 – promising to seal a trade deal with the bloc by the end of this year.
The government has said it is not planning to seek an extension to that deadline in light of the epidemic.
Johnson has been criticised for initially approving a much more modest response to the coronavirus outbreak than other major European countries, though he then imposed a lockdown as projections showed half a million people could die.