UK’s Boris Johnson spends night in ICU; not on ventilator
LONDON – 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 Johnson’s condition.
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 Johnson is being given oxygen but “the prime minister is not on a ventilator.”
He said he did not know whether the prime minister had pneumonia, which often develops in patients hit hardest by the coronavirus.
Gove said 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 Boris can make the speediest possible recovery,” said Gove, who is in isolation at home after a family member showed mild coronavirus symptoms.
Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, is herself recovering from coronavirus symptoms.
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,” Raab said late Monday. He said Johnson had asked him “to deputize for him where needed in driving forward the government’s plans to defeat coronavirus.”
The deterioration of 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 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.
Johnson had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26.
He continued to work throughout his illness, to the concern of some of his colleagues. With the U.K. still approaching the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, and the government facing accusations that it did not act soon enough to put the country into lockdown, Johnson and his ministers are under intense pressure.
Johnson 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 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.
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,” Walden told the BBC.
News that Johnson had been transferred to intensive care drew an outpouring of 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,” Trump said during a White House press briefing. “He’s been really something very special – strong, resolute, doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up.”
Trump 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 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 humor will help combat the disease,” Putin wrote.
Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II was being kept informed about 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.
Johnson delegating Raab to fill in for him clarifies things for now, but it does not mean Raab would automatically take over permanently should a new leader be needed. If it became clear Johnson could not return to his job, the Conservative Party could elect a new leader, who would become prime minister.