LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being treated for worsening coronavirus symptoms in an intensive care unit on Tuesday, with his foreign minister deputising for him as the nation tackles the COVID-19 crisis.
Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London late on Sunday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature, for more than 10 days.
His condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was moved to an intensive care unit – where the most serious cases are treated. Although he had received oxygen, his office said he was still conscious.
Downing Street said the move to intensive care was “a precaution should he require ventilation to aid his recovery”.
Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated.
“The PM has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is the First Secretary of State, to deputise for him where necessary,” Downing Street said.
Just hours earlier, Johnson’s office said he was in good spirits and Raab had told a news conference that the prime minister was still running the government.
The pound edged lower against the dollar and the euro in Asia on Tuesday, trading at $1.2234 following a 0.3% decline on Monday.
BUSINESS WILL CONTINUE
“The government’s business will continue,” a sombre Raab, 46, told reporters, saying Johnson was in the safe hands of a brilliant medical team.
“The focus of the government will continue to be on making sure that the prime minister’s direction, all the plans for making sure that we can defeat coronavirus and can pull the country through this challenge, will be taken forward.”
Britain has some important decisions to make in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak. The official death toll in the United Kingdom currently stands at 5,373, and last week the health minister said the deadliest peak for deaths was projected to be Easter Sunday, April 12.
The country is in a state of virtual lockdown, a situation due to be reviewed early next week, and some ministers have suggested it might need to be extended because some people were flouting the strict rules.
There have also been calls for ministers to detail what the exit plans were from the shutdown, which has hammered the world’s fifth-biggest economy after the government ordered restaurants, bars, and nearly all shops to close and told people to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus.
Johnson tested positive for the virus on March 26, the first leader of a major power to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
After 10 days of isolation in an apartment at Downing Street, he was still fighting the virus on Sunday evening with a high temperature and persistent cough, prompting his admission to hospital. He was last seen in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday when he looked weary.
“There is no doubt this turn of events means Boris Johnson is extremely sick,” said Derek Hill, a professor of medical imaging at University College London (UCL).
Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth had been kept informed by Downing Street and U.S. President Donald Trump said all Americans were praying for his recovery.
“He’s been really something very special – strong, resolute, doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up,” Trump told a news briefing, adding he had asked two pharmaceutical firms developing potential COVID-19 therapies to get in touch with the British government to offer their services.
“We’ve contacted all of Boris’ doctors and we’ll see what is going to take place,” he said. “But they are ready to go.”
Johnson, who is not a smoker, said recently that he wanted to lose weight. He plays tennis and while mayor of London used to cycle around the capital.
The face of the 2016 Brexit campaign, he won a resounding election victory in December before leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan. 31.
He faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the new coronavirus outbreak than other European leaders, saying on March 3 that he had been shaking hands with coronavirus patients.
He changed tack when scientific projections showed a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom and in the last few weeks the virus has penetrated the British government.
Johnson and his health minister tested positive last month and chief medical adviser Chris Whitty self-isolated. Johnson’s pregnant 32-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also had symptoms but said on Saturday she was feeling better.
Reporting by Paul Sandle and Costas Pitas; writing by Michael Holden; editing by Richard Pullin