UK PM Johnson hospitalised for tests after ‘persistent coronavirus symptoms’

A handout photo made available by No. 10 Downing Street of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson applauding during a 'Claps for our Carers' outside 11 Downing Street in London, Britain, 02 April March 2020. [EPA-EFE/PIPPA FOWLES / DOWNING STREET HANDOUT]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital for tests on Sunday (5 April) after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms 10 days after testing positive for the virus, though Downing Street said he remained in charge of the government.

Johnson, who was isolating in Downing Street after testing positive last month, still had a high temperature and so his doctors felt he should go to an undisclosed hospital for tests in what the government said was a “precautionary step”.

“On the advice of his doctor, the prime minister has tonight been admitted to hospital for tests,” his Downing Street office said in a statement. Johnson is expected to stay overnight.

“This is a precautionary step, as the prime minister continues to have persistent symptoms of coronavirus ten days after testing positive for the virus,” the statement added.

News of his hospitalisation came only after an hour after Queen Elizabeth delivered a rallying call to the British public saying they would overcome the coronavirus outbreak if they stayed resolute.

Johnson, 55, on March 27 became the first leader of a major power to announce that he had tested positive. He went into isolation at an apartment in Downing Street and said on Friday he was staying there as he still had a high temperature.

Downing Street underscored that this was not an emergency admission and that Johnson remained in charge of the government. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will chair the government’s emergency COVID-19 meeting on Monday, a source said.

UK’s plan B if Johnson is incapacitated? Answer is unclear

With only an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents to go by, there is no simple, formally-enshrined “Plan B” or succession scenario should the prime minister become incapacitated.

“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.

Whereas in the United States the vice president steps up if the president dies or becomes incapacitated, Britain has no formal deputy or caretaker prime minister who would take over.

Nor is there any guidance for such circumstances in the Cabinet Manual which sets out the rules and conventions for the running of government, and there is little precedence.

When asked about who would stand in for the prime minister, his spokesman said: “The prime minister has the power to delegate responsibility to any of his ministers, but for now it is the prime minister and then the foreign secretary.”

There is no suggestion Johnson is unable to perform his job. Since his diagnosis, he has carried on leading the government’s efforts through the use of teleconferencing.

Coronavirus in the UK

Johnson has faced criticism in the United Kingdom for initially approving a much more modest response to the novel coronavirus outbreak than other major European leaders, telling a news conference on March 3 that he had been shaking hands with coronavirus patients.

He then changed tack when scientific projections showed a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom.

Johnson effectively shuttered the world’s fifth-largest economy, advising people to stay at home and the elderly or infirm to isolate themselves for weeks.

But the virus has penetrated the British government.

Johnson and his health minister tested positive last month and his chief medical adviser also self isolated. Johnson’s pregnant 32-year-old fiancee, Carrie Symonds, also had symptoms but said on Saturday she was feeling better.

From an apartment above Number 11 Downing Street, and with food brought to his door, Johnson continued to lead the government’s response and chaired meetings via video conference.

Video messages

He has posted a series of video messages on Twitter since then, initially appearing in a suit and tie but in the latest post on Friday, he appeared weary, sitting in a chair with his shirt open at the neck.

“Although I’m feeling better and I’ve done my seven days of isolation, alas I still have one of the symptoms, a minor symptom, I still have a temperature,” he said.

Britain’s National Health Service guidelines stipulate that those who suspect they have coronavirus should not leave home.

Under a section headlined “What to do if you need medical help while self-isolating”, it says: “If you need medical help for any reason, do not go to places like a GP (family doctor) surgery, pharmacy or hospital.”

Health officials said on Sunday the UK death toll from the coronavirus had risen by 621 to 4,934.

Tests

Downing Street refused to say what tests Johnson was to have in hospital, but experts said a person of the prime minister’s age with COVID-19 symptoms after 10 days would be likely be assessed for their oxygen levels, lung, liver and heart functions, and undergo an electrocardiogram heart check.

Doctors managing COVID-19 patients had reported that more men than women had serious problems and patients who were overweight or had previous health issues were at a higher risk.

Earlier this year, Johnson said he needed to lose weight.

“We don’t know exactly why the PM has gone to hospital except we have been told he is having tests,” said Derek Hill, professor of medical imaging science at University College London.

“Many people attending hospital with COVID-19 have difficulty breathing. Some people are rapidly discharged. Some others can quickly deteriorate and need help breathing. We have no reason to believe the PM needs such help.”

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