London: Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken to the hospital for tests as he struggles to recover from coronavirus, dealing a serious blow to the U.K. as the country prepares for the worst of the crisis.
Almost 5,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the U.K. so far and, according to government advisers and scientists, the peak of the outbreak is likely to hit in the next 7-10 days. On Sunday night, Queen Elizabeth II made a rare televised address to the nation, appealing for unity and invoking the spirit of wartime sacrifice to defeat the pandemic.
Europe’s worst-hit countries reported declines in deaths, with the latest data from Spain, Italy and France suggesting measures that have halted economies and forced people to stay home are having an effect. But while the rise in fatalities also slowed in the U.K., Britain is behind other nations in the infections curve and is struggling to ramp up testing.
While Johnson, 55, remains technically in charge, he is not likely to be able to chair the critical daily meeting to coordinate the government’s response on Monday, according to an official. That thrusts the responsibility into the hands of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is Johnson’s de facto deputy.
The premier’s illness was initially described as mild, and there is no sign that it’s getting worse. Instead, his doctor advised that he should be admitted to the hospital for “precautionary” tests because symptoms, including a fever, have not cleared up. He’s expected to stay in overnight.
Johnson’s personal health problems add to the sense of confusion surrounding the U.K.’s response. His administration has struggled to prove it is on top of the pandemic, and faced criticism from health specialists and the national media.
Unlike in some other countries the U.K. has not conducted widespread testing to gather reliable data on infections, instead advising anyone with symptoms of a cough or a fever to self-isolate at home.
Medical experts including at the World Health Organization, and some of Johnson’s own Conservative colleagues, have questioned the government’s record on testing. He had already been criticized for taking too long to impose limits on socializing.
On March 23, Johnson ordered a lockdown, with schools, non-essential shops and public venues closing, and people only allowed out of their homes if they can’t work from home, or for other vital needs.
Police have been given sweeping powers to enforce the rules, while the government said on Sunday it will release many as 4,000 low-risk prisoners from jails in England and Wales to curb the spread of the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock criticized what he described as a “minority” of people who are ignoring the social-distancing rules to sunbathe or gather in parks, and said the government would not hesitate to ban all outdoor exercise if necessary.
“I don’t want to have to take that action, of course I don’t, but we have already demonstrated that we are prepared to take the action that’s necessary to get this virus under control,” Hancock said. “Let’s not have a minority spoiling it for everybody.” Later, he added that stricter measures were not “imminent.”
In Scotland, Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood resigned after she visited her second home 45 miles (72 kilometers) from Edinburgh, in breach of her own guidelines.
Indeed, there have been internal divisions over the U.K. government’s tactics. Officials from Johnson’s office clashed last week with colleagues in Hancock’s department over whether the government should commit to a target of carrying out 100,000 tests per day by the end of April.
Hancock eventually went ahead with the plan, despite objections, a person familiar with the matter said, speaking on condition of anonymity.-Bloomberg