UK PM Johnson in intensive care, needed oxygen after COVID-19 symptoms worsened

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care on Tuesday after receiving oxygen support for serious COVID-19 complications while his foreign minister took over the helm of government as the outbreak accelerated.

The upheaval of Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the government just as the United Kingdom enters what scientists say will be the most deadly phase of the pandemic, which has killed 5,373 people in Britain and 70,000 worldwide.

Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital across the River Thames from the House of Commons late on Sunday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and a cough, for more than 10 days.

But his condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was on Monday moved to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated, in case he needed to be put on a ventilator. He was still conscious, his office said.

“He’s not on a ventilator, no,” Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told LBC radio on Tuesday. “The prime minister has received some oxygen support and he is kept under, of course, close supervision.”

“The prime minister is in intensive care,” Gove said. “He’s a man of great zest and appetite for life.”

But the absence of Johnson, the first leader of a major power to be hospitalised after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, at such a crucial time raised questions about who was truly in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy.

While Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated, Johnson asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, 46, to deputise for him “where necessary,” Downing Street said.

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WHO LEADS?

Raab on Tuesday chaired the government’s COVID-19 emergency response meeting, though ministers refused to say who had ultimate control the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons – a role held by the prime minister.

“There are well developed protocols which are in place,” said Gove, who himself went into self isolation on Tuesday after a family member displayed symptoms.

Before he was rushed to intensive care, Johnson had said that he was in good spirits and Raab had told a news conference that Johnson was still running the government, although Raab also said he had not spoken to him directly since Saturday.

British leaders do not traditionally publicise the results of their medical examinations as some U.S. presidents including Donald Trump have.

Raab, the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, takes the helm at a pivotal time. Government scientists see the death toll rising until at least April 12 and Britain must ultimately decide when to lift the lockdown.

“The government’s business will continue,” said Raab, a staunch Brexit supporter who has served as foreign minister for less than a year.

Johnson’s move to intensive care added to the sense of upheaval that the coronavirus crisis has wrought after its spread caused widespread panic, sowed chaos through financial markets and prompted the virtual shutdown of the global economy.

The United Kingdom 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.

The pound dipped in Asian trading on news of Johnson’s intensive care treatment but then rallied in London trading. Against the dollar, sterling traded to a high of $1.2349, up 0.9% on the session.

BORIS

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, fought a snap election in December which he won resoundingly and then led the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan 31 – promising to seal a Brexit trade deal 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 faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the novel coronavirus outbreak than other major European leaders, though he then imposed a lockdown as projections showed half a million people could die.

He tested positive for the virus on March 26.

After 10 days of isolation in an apartment at Downing Street, he was admitted to hospital. He was last seen in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday when he looked weary.

Downing Street said repeatedly on Monday that Johnson remained in charge and was reading documents, but the move to intensive care revealed the gravity of his condition.

James Gill, a doctor and a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School, said the news of Johnson’s admission to intensive care was “worrying” but not completely out of line with other people suffering complications.

“So far we have seen a deterioration in line with other cases of COVID-19 infections,” he said. “Admission to ITU is worrying news, (but) this is not all together uncommon with this disease, and may be looked at from a positive that the PM is getting the very best care that the NHS has to offer.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said all Americans were praying for his recovery, and other world leaders sent messages of support.

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Factbox: Reaction as UK PM Johnson moved to intensive care

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to intensive care on Monday after his coronavirus symptoms worsened and he has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputize, Downing Street said.

Below is early reaction to the news:

ROYAL REACTION

Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth had been kept informed by Downing Street.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT

“All my support for Boris Johnson, his family and the British people at this difficult time. I wish him to overcome this ordeal quickly.”

IVANKA TRUMP, ADVISER TO HER FATHER U.S. PRESIDENT TRUMP

“My thoughts and prayers are with Boris Johnson and his family. Godspeed Mr Prime Minister!”

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINSTER

“Sending my best wishes to Prime Minister Boris 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.”

MICHEL BARNIER, CHIEF EU BREXIT NEGOTIATOR

“Wishing Boris Johnson all the best and a speedy recovery. My thoughts are with you and your family.”

BRITISH POLITICAL REACTION

KEIR STARMER, LEADER OF UK’S MAIN OPPOSITION LABOUR PARTY

“Terribly sad news. All the country’s thoughts are with the Prime Minister and his family during this incredibly difficult time.”

RISHI SUNAK, BRITISH FINANCE MINISTER

“My thoughts tonight are with Boris Johnson and (his fiancée) Carrie Symonds. I know he’ll be getting the best care possible and will come out of this even stronger.”

DAVID CAMERON, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER

“Thinking of Boris Johnson and his family tonight. Get well soon. You are in great hands and we all want you safe, well and back in 10 Downing Street.”

THERESA MAY, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER

“My thoughts and prayers are with Boris Johnson and his family as he continues to receive treatment in hospital.”

LINDSAY HOYLE, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

“This is terrible news. I know the thoughts and prayers of everyone across the House are with the Prime Minister and his family right now. We all wish him a speedy recovery.”

LONDON MAYOR SADIQ KHAN

“Praying for the Prime Minister’s swift recovery tonight. Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS has some of the finest medical staff in the world, and he couldn’t be in safer hands.”

NICOLA STURGEON, SCOTLAND’S FIRST MINISTER

“My thoughts are with the PM and his family – sending him every good wish.”

JUSTIN WELBY, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

“The news that our Prime Minister has been moved to intensive care deepens our compassion for all who are seriously ill and for those caring for them. I invite all people of faith to join me in praying for Boris Johnson and his loved ones.”

EPHRAIM MIRVIS, CHIEF RABBI

“May Almighty God bless our Prime Minister as he battles against Covid-19 in hospital. May he be strengthened and granted a swift and complete recovery, together with all those who continue to suffer at the hands of this terrible virus.”

HARUN KHAN, SECRETARY GENERAL OF MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN

“Saddened to hear that our PM Boris Johnson has been taken into intensive care. My thoughts are with him and his loved ones wishing him a speedy recovery. We know he will receive the best care and attention from our world class #NHS.”

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UK's plan B if 'Team Johnson' is incapacitated? Answer is unclear

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s constitution offers no clear answer to the question now on many Britons’ minds: what happens if Prime Minister Boris Johnson, undergoing tests in hospital after persistent symptoms of coronavirus, cannot continue to lead.

Johnson was admitted to hospital on Sunday for what he said were “routine tests” after still struggling with a cough and a high temperature 10 days after he tested positive for the virus.

His office said he would remain in charge of government, just as he had since he went into self-isolation in his Downing Street residence on March 27. He continues to receive his ministerial box of government documents.

Downing Street has said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who also holds the title First Secretary of State, would deputise for Johnson if necessary. Raab chaired the government’s emergency daily COVID-19 meeting on Monday and will continue to do so while Johnson is in hospital.

“Raab should formally deputise for Johnson until he is back to his normal swashbuckling self,” said Paul Goodman, editor of the ConservativeHome website influential in Johnson’s party.

But Britain’s constitution — an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents — offers no clear, formal “Plan B” or succession scenario, experts said.

“We’ve not been in that kind of situation, we’ve not had to think about it from that point of view before,” Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, told Reuters soon after Johnson was first diagnosed.

Other senior figures have also gone into isolation with confirmed or suspected cases. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who tested positive at the same time as Johnson but had milder symptoms, has recovered and has led some government news briefings on the outbreak.

There is no guidance in the Cabinet Manual, which sets out the rules and conventions for the running of government, on precisely what to do should the prime minister and other senior figures become incapacitated.

CHURCHILL’S STROKE

In June 1953, then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill suffered a stroke while in office. His illness was kept so secret that some senior ministers were unaware. Churchill surprised doctors by recovering to carry on his duties, returning to Downing Street and running the cabinet two months later.

More recently, Tony Blair twice underwent treatment for a heart condition while prime minister in the early 2000s, each time briefly cutting back on his workload for a couple of days.

Officials said that if Blair were to have been incapacitated, his then-deputy John Prescott would have taken over until a new leader was elected.

Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service from January 2012 to September 2014, said Johnson’s role was crucial at this time, stressing that visible leadership was essential.

Kerslake, speaking to Sky News last month after Johnson tested positive, said officials would need to know what would happen if senior ministers were unable to do their jobs. Losing Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who coordinates policy across government, would be a serious blow, Kerslake said.

Haddon from the Institute for Government said some powers were specifically vested in cabinet ministers, so there was an issue of what happened if they were unavailable.

“If you got to a stage where … you had secretaries of state who aren’t able to perform their functions, then there are question marks about whether junior ministers in their department act on their behalf,” she said.

One lawmaker in Johnson’s party, who has repeatedly tried to bring in a law to formalise who would replace a prime minister in the event of incapacity, said last month that no one seemed to know what would happen.

“In a national emergency, you don’t want to be scrabbling around worrying about who’s in charge,” Peter Bone told the Mirror newspaper.

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'No idea' if PM Johnson will end isolation on Friday, health minister says

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s health minister said on Friday he had “no idea” if Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s week-long isolation after testing positive for coronavirus would end on Friday.

“I don’t know about his own personal medical condition. What I do know is I’ve been working with him every single day through this crisis,” Health Minister Matt Hancock told ITV. “He’s been working incredibly hard.”

Asked if Johnson would be out of isolation on Friday, Hancock said: “I’ve absolutely no idea but what I do know is he’s still working.”

Johnson announced a week ago that he had tested positive and would be isolating in Downing Street.

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British PM Johnson demands more testing to defeat the coronavirus outbreak

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to ramp up testing for coronavirus saying it was the key to defeating the outbreak after his government faced criticism for testing much fewer people than some of its European peers.

Britain, which initially took a much more restrained approach to the coronavirus outbreak, has faced widespread criticism that it was carrying out far too few tests, particularly for front line staff in the National Health Service.

“We’re also massively increasing testing,” Johnson said in a video message from a flat in Downing Street where he is self-isolating after testing positive himself. “I want to say a special word about testing because it is so important.

“As I have said for weeks and weeks, this is the way through: this is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle, this is how we will defeat it in the end,” Johnson said.

While Germany has been testing about 500,000 people a week, Britain’s current capacity is just about 12,750 a day, a figure the government said it was aiming to double by mid-April.

“What we need to do is massively ramp up not just tests so that you can know whether you have had the disease in the past – so-called antibody tests – so that will enable you to go to work in the confidence that you can’t be infected or infectious,” Johnson said.

“Second, people need to know whether they haven’t got it rather than isolating themselves at home for no reason, and that’s very, very important above all for our NHS staff,” he said.

As of 0800 GMT on April 1, 152,979 people in the United Kingdom have been tested, of which 29,474 were confirmed positive. As of 1700 on March 31, 2,352 people in the United Kingdom who tested positive have died.

Ministers have suggested that shortages of necessary chemicals had been a factor, although the industry has said it necessary reagents are being manufactured and delivered to the NHS.

It has led to accusations that Britain, whose initial approach to the countering the virus abruptly changed after modelling showed a quarter of a million people in the United Kingdom could perish leading to more stringent measures, had been too slow to prepare for the outbreak.

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PRESS DIGEST- Financial Times – April 1

March 31 (Reuters) – The following are the top stories in the Financial Times. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

Headlines

– Domino’s Pizza appoints former Costa Coffee boss as chief on.ft.com/2UOUW48

– Carnival looks to raise $6bn to stay afloat on.ft.com/2xJasGz

– Regulator clears Flutter’s £10bn tie-up with Stars Group on.ft.com/3dMQZp1

Overview

– Domino’s Pizza UK has appointed the former head of Costa Coffee, Dominic Paul, as its chief executive after investors called for David Wild to step down as chief due to his perceived failure to placate franchisees.

– Carnival Corp is looking to raise $6 billion to stay afloat, which includes $3 billion of three-year bonds secured on part of its fleet of cruise ships, $1.75 billion of bonds that can convert into shares and $1.25bn in newly issued stock, as the company reels from the impact of coronavirus on its business.

– UK’s Competition and Market Authority has approved Flutter Entertainment’s £10 billion pound ($12.42 billion) merger with Stars Group. ($1 = 0.8053 pounds) (Compiled by Bengaluru newsroom)

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UK coronavirus death toll rises to 1,408

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose to 1,408, according to figures released on Monday, an increase of 180, a smaller rise than the previous set of numbers.

The figures are accurate up to 17:00 local time on March 29.

The previous increase saw the death toll rise by 209.

There are a total of 22,141 positive cases as of 0900 local time on March 30, the health ministry said.

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All parts of UK now on emergency footing to fight coronavirus – minister

LONDON (Reuters) – All parts of Britain are on an emergency footing the likes of which have not been seen since World War Two in the fight against coronavirus, with strategic coordination centers being set up across the country, housing minister Robert Jenrick said.

“All parts of the country are now on an emergency footing,” he said at a news conference on Sunday.

“This is an unprecedented step in peacetime. We haven’t done anything like this since the Second World War.”

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UK's William and Kate urge mental health wellbeing during coronavirus outbreak

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince William and his wife, duchess Kate, urged people on Sunday to take care of their mental health during the coronavirus outbreak.

“The last few weeks have been anxious and unsettling for everyone. We have to take time to support each other and find ways to look after our mental health,” read a post on their Kensington Palace Twitter feed.

“By taking simple steps each day we can all be better prepared for the times ahead.”

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UK deaths from coronavirus outbreak rise to 463 as of March 25: Government

(Reuters) – The number of coronavirus deaths in the UK has risen to 463 as of Wednesday from 422 on Tuesday, the British government said, adding that more than 9,500 COVID-19 cases have now been reported in the country.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to 9,529 as of Wednesday, compared to 8,077 cases as of Tuesday, the statement added.

The government is anticipating a peaking of coronavirus cases in Britain in the coming weeks and has appealed to manufacturers to supply the National Health Service with the appropriate requirements.

Britain had been in talks with over 3,000 businesses about supplying ventilators to quickly increase the health service’s capacity. The country’s existing stock of about 5,000-8,000 ventilators is inadequate if cases jump as predicted.

Britain has ordered 10,000 medical ventilators designed at breakneck speed by vacuum cleaner-maker Dyson, according to an internal email to Dyson’s staff, which was seen by Reuters.

Separately, over 170,000 people have signed up to help the NHS tackle the outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Britons on Monday to stay at home to halt the spread of the virus, imposing curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime.

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