Coronavirus: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in ‘good spirits’ as he fights Covid-19 in intensive care

Stuart Lau

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in a stable condition and in “good spirits” Tuesday after he spent his first night in intensive care fighting persistent Covid-19 symptoms.

Johnson did not require a mechanical ventilator to assist his breathing, his spokesman said, but did receive standard oxygen treatment at a London hospital less than a mile from his residence.

The disclosure came as public concern mounted about the health status of 55-year-old Johnson, the most high profile leader in the world to fall ill from the coronavirus that has killed more than 75,000 globally.

First secretary of state Dominic Raab, who is foreign secretary, has been asked by Johnson, to step in and act as Britain’s leader “where necessary”, underlining the serious medical situation of the man leading the world’s sixth largest economy.

In a tightly controlled release of information, 10 Downing Street called Johnson’s transfer to intensive care a precautionary measure, so that he could stay close to a ventilator if and when he needed it.

A spokesperson said Johnson did not require invasive respiratory support, or intubation – a medical procedure that would have indicated the prime minister’s health was in serious decline.

“He’s not on a ventilator, no,” Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said Tuesday, hours before Gove himself put himself into self-isolation because a family member displayed symptoms.

“I have not displayed any symptoms and am continuing to work as normal,” Gove tweeted.

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Johnson has not developed pneumonia and only needed four litres of oxygen – less than 15 litres normally needed for patients in intensive care, The Times reported, citing hospital sources.

Queen Elizabeth, who gave a rare televised address and called for national unity just hours before Johnson went to hospital on Sunday, was “kept informed” on the prime minister’s condition and his transfer to intensive care, according to Buckingham Palace.

Flowers being delivered to 10 Downing Street. Photo: AFP

US President Donald Trump said he asked “leading companies” to contact officials in London about therapies that could help Johnson, adding: “We’ll see if we can be of help. We’ve contacted all of Boris’ doctors.”

Trump offered his “best wishes to a very good friend of mine, and a friend to our nation,” adding that “Americans are all praying for his recovery”.

Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to Britain, said on Twitter: “Our thoughts are with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Let’s hope and pray that he will get well soon.”

In a bid to calm the public, Raab said on Monday night that the government would function normally, despite Johnson’s situation.

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“The prime minister is in safe hands with the brilliant team at St Thomas’ Hospital,” Raab said.

“The focus of the government will continue to be on making sure the prime minister’s direction – all the plans to making sure we can defeat coronavirus and pull the country through this challenge – will be taken forward.”

Concerning the cabinet, Raab said there was an “incredibly strong team spirit” behind Johnson and sought o reassure the public that “the government’s business will continue”.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson o March 6 during a visit to the Mologic Laboratory in the Bedford technology Park, north of London. Photo: AFP

Johnson’s condition had worsened in just 48 hours. He had been self-isolating at his home for much of the last fortnight, since diagnosed with Covid-19.

But on Sunday, he had to be admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital, because he needed “some routine tests as I’m still experiencing coronavirus symptoms”, he said on his own Twitter account.

On Monday evening, however, the situation became more grim, as Downing Street announced that the prime minister was transferred to intensive care.

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His office initially would not confirm media reports that Johnson was being given oxygen support.

Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, is expecting the couple’s baby in early summer. She said on Saturday she had spent a week in bed with the main coronavirus symptoms, but added that she had not been tested.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose wife recently recovered from Covid-19, sent his best wishes to Johnson for a full and speedy recovery. “My thoughts are with you and your family right now. Hope to see you back at Number 10 soon,” he said.

A police officer outside St Thomas' Hospital where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being treated. Photo: AP

French President Emmanuel Macron said he wished him to “overcome this ordeal quickly”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Johnson’s “energy, optimism and sense of humour” would help him get better.

Britain reported over 6,000 deaths Tuesday, a jump of 758 in a day, it’s deadliest so far. Of the latest fatalities, 29 had no known underlying health conditions.

More than 55,000 have been infected, making it one of the worst-affected countries. But government experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of people could be infected.

Johnson, who has been prime minister only since July last year, is not known to have any underlying health issues and doesn’t smoke, although he has struggled with his weight.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, have both been infected, although they have since recovered.

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Many health experts have criticised the UK government’s slow response to the crisis, the low level of testing for the virus and the poor provision of intensive care beds, ventilators and protective equipment.

In early March, with more than 100,000 cases recorded globally and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning of a potential pandemic, Johnson appeared to underestimate the threat.

“I continue to shake hands,” Johnson said at a March 3 press conference, after visiting a hospital ward and meeting Covid-19 patients.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and DPA

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