British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care on Tuesday after receiving oxygen support for serious COVID-19 complications, leaving his foreign minister to lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.
Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the British government just as the United Kingdom enters what scientists say is likely to be one of the most deadly weeks 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.
His condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was moved to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated. Although he had received oxygen, his office said on Monday he was still conscious and was moved to intensive care in case he needed to be put on a ventilator.
Johnson is the first leader of a major power to be hospitalised for the new coronavirus.
While Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated, Johnson had asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputise for him “where necessary,” Downing Street said.
Raab entered Downing Street on Tuesday to chair the government’s COVID-19 emergency response meeting.
Earlier on Monday, Johnson had said he was in good spirits and Raab had told a news conference that the prime minister was still running the government, although Raab also said he had not spoken to him directly since Saturday.
Raab takes the helm at a pivotal time. The official death toll in the United Kingdom currently stands at 5,373, and last week the health minister said the deadliest peak for deaths was projected to be Easter Sunday, April 12.
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 edged lower against the dollar and the euro in Asia on Tuesday, trading at $1.2234 following a 0.3% decline on Monday.