Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “clinically stable” in intensive care yesterday and responding to treatment for Covid-19 complications, amid questions about how key coronavirus crisis decisions would be made in his absence.
Johnson, who tested positive nearly two weeks ago, was admitted to St Thomas’ hospital on Sunday evening with a persistent high temperature and cough but his condition deteriorated and he was rushed into an intensive care unit.
The 55-year-old leader has received oxygen support but was not put on a ventilator and his designated deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said he would soon be back at the helm as the world faces one of its gravest public health crisis in a century.
Downing Street said that Johnson was not working, but was able to contact people if needed. “The prime minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment. He is in good spirits,” Johnson’s spokesman said, similar to what Downing Street has been saying over the past two days.
As Johnson battled the novel coronavirus in hospital, the UK was entering what scientists said was the deadliest phase of the outbreak and grappling with the question of when to lift the lockdown.
Inside the government, ministers were debating how long the world’s fifth-largest economy could afford to be shut down, and the long-term implications of one of the most stringent set of emergency controls in peacetime history.
The UK’s total hospital deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 786 to 6,159 as of 1600GMT on April 6, the latest publicly available death toll, though just 213,181 people out of the population of around 68mn have been tested.
Britain was in no position to lift the shutdown as the peak of the outbreak was still over a week away, London mayor Sadiq Khan said.
“We are nowhere near lifting the lockdown,” Khan said.
Johnson was breathing without any assistance and had not required respiratory support, disclosed Raab, who said the prime minister, whom he described as “a fighter”, remained in charge.
There are few precedents in British history of a prime minister being incapacitated at a time of major crisis, though Winston Churchill suffered a stroke while in office in 1953 and Tony Blair twice underwent heart treatment in the 2000s.
Johnson has delegated some authority to Raab, who was appointed foreign minister less than a year ago, though any major decisions — such as when to lift the lockdown — would in effect need the blessing of Johnson’s cabinet.
Britain’s uncodified constitution — an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents — offers no clear, formal “Plan B”. In essence, it is the prime minister’s call and, if he is incapacitated, then up to cabinet to decide.
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