Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “responding to treatment”, his spokesman said Wednesday, as the 55-year-old leader spent a third day in intensive care battling the coronavirus.
The disease has struck at the heart of the British government and infected more than 55,000 people across the country and killed nearly 6,200.
“The prime minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment,” his official spokesman said. “He continues to be cared for in the intensive care unit in St Thomas’ Hospital. He is in good spirits.”
Earlier, junior health minister Edward Argar told Sky News the Conservative leader was “not on ventilation”.
The latest update came as newspapers urged Britons to keep their stricken leader at the forefront of their minds, with the country in lockdown to try to stem the spread of COVID-19 in its third week.
“He stayed at work for you… now pray at home for him,” The Sun tabloid splashed across its front page. “Boris ‘will pull through’“ said the Daily Express.
Deputising for Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the PM “a fighter” and predicted “he’ll be back, leading us through this crisis in short order”.
Johnson is the most high-profile government leader to become infected with COVID-19 and messages of support flooded in from across Britain and the world.
He was admitted to intensive care on Monday evening after spending Sunday night in hospital following concerns he still had a cough and high temperature 10 days after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
His transfer to intensive care is unprecedented for a prime minister during a national emergency.
For many people, it brought home the seriousness of the disease that has so far seen 6,159 deaths in Britain, with a record 786 more reported in a daily update on Tuesday. Fresh figures are expected later on Wednesday.
‘Work goes on’
Despite the record daily death toll, there was more encouraging news with the number of new daily cases remaining at a roughly stable 3,643.
Downing Street also said on Wednesday that it was still too soon to say whether stringent social distancing measures introduced on March 23 for an initial three-week period would be eased at all.
A review is expected take place next week as planned, despite suggestions of a power vacuum at the top of the British government given the PM’s hospitalisation.
“We’ve set out that we would make a further announcement in three weeks and there’s no change to that, no change at all to the timeline,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
The country does not have a formal constitutional role of deputy prime minister, and experts said Raab would need the support of the rest of the cabinet to make any big decisions.
Johnson announced on March 27 that he had coronavirus and went into self-isolation in a flat above his Downing Street office.
But on Monday evening he was moved to intensive care in London’s St Thomas’ hospital after his condition worsened.
The prime minister has received messages of support from around the world, with US President Donald Trump sending best wishes to his “very good friend” while Russian leader Vladimir Putin said Johnson’s “energy, optimism and sense of humour” would see him through.
For some, Johnson’s larger-than-life personality has made his hospitalisation all the more shocking.
His biographer Andrew Gimson said Johnson always made him feel upbeat, and “now here he is the stricken one”.
“This is an enormous shock, completely unfamiliar territory for all those who know him,” he told BBC radio.
Experts said it was not uncommon for coronavirus patients to move to intensive care, but said it showed Johnson’s condition was serious.
“There is no doubt this turn of events means Boris Johnson is extremely sick,” said Derek Hill, professor of medical imaging at University College London.
Still shaking hands
The British government was criticised for initially refusing to follow other European countries in requiring people to stay home as the virus spread rapidly across the globe.
Johnson himself said in early March that he was still shaking hands with people.
Two weeks ago, he ordered a nationwide lockdown, but parliament continued to sit for several days after and Westminster became a hotspot for the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, have both been infected, although they have since recovered.
Johnson’s pregnant partner, Carrie Symonds, moved out of Downing Street after some staff fell ill.
Meanwhile, Number 10 also revealed on Wednesday that it expected its chief Brexit negotiator David Frost to “speak early next week” to his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier to agree a timetable for “remote” talks in April and May.