UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) of a London hospital Monday night after his symptoms from covid-19 got worse, according to multiple reports out of Britain. Johnson has received oxygen treatment but British government officials insist he has not been placed on a ventilator.
“He’s not on a ventilator, no,” UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told British radio station LBC on Tuesday morning. “The Prime Minister has received some oxygen support and he is kept under, of course, close supervision.”
Johnson first announced that he’d tested positive for covid-19 on March 27 in a video message on Twitter, but insisted that he was staying home and could continue running the country through video conferences. The 55-year-old Prime Minister was admitted to St. Thomas’s Hospital in London on Sunday, and has only gotten worse over the past two days. Johnson was moved to the ICU unit on Monday night around 7:00 pm local time, according to Gove.
LBC radio host Nick Ferrari asked Gove how quickly the Prime Minister’s condition had worsened, noting that at 5:00 pm local time on Monday there had been assurances Johnson was still leading the country with the assistance of his staff. Gove only said that the government had made the previous announcement because it “reflected the information that we all had at the time.”
Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) only has about 5,900 ventilators for a population of roughly 66 million people, according to the Guardian, something that could prove disastrous if the hospital system becomes overrun with too many patients. Johnson had previously joked about the UK’s desperate search for ventilators, telling a group of CEOs that perhaps the effort to produce more should be called “Operation Last Gasp.”
The last public image of Johnson was during a Twitter video published on April 3, where the Prime Minister did not look well.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is essentially running the country in Johnson’s place, despite there being no clear succession rules under British law for who should replace the Prime Minister if he should become incapacitated. In the U.S., there are clear rules about who becomes leader of the country if the president becomes unable to continue in the role. Vice President Mike Pence would become president if Donald Trump, for instance, died of covid-19.
“There’s an incredibly strong team spirit behind the Prime Minister, and making sure that we get all of the plans the Prime Minister’s instructed us to deliver, to get them implemented as soon as possible,” Raab said during a press conference, according to the Telegraph.
The UK currently has 52,279 identified cases of covid-19 and 5,835 deaths, as of Tuesday morning. Those numbers are probably much lower than the actual numbers because the country has been behind many other countries when it comes to testing for the disease. The U.S., which is also way behind on testing relative to its population, has 368,449 identified cases and 10,993 deaths, as of Tuesday morning, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.
Until recently, the UK government’s plan for the new coronavirus was to shelter people over the age of 65 in their homes but allow the virus to otherwise spread through the country uninhibited. Johnson’s government only recently abandoned that plan after it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of people could die. The UK has since instituted social distancing measures and locked down all of England.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about the threat of covid-19 is that it only devastates the health of those who are elderly and feeble. While people over the age of 60 are the most likely to die from covid-19, so-called “mild cases” can still involve being very sick for weeks. Essentially, anything short of death was initially described as “mild,” giving a false impression about the severity of the disease. Young people all over the world are also dying from covid-19, with a one-day-old girl in Louisiana being the latest child to die after the mother tested positive for the disease.
Johnson boasted as recently as March 3 that he wasn’t concerned about the virus, saying that he had recently been shaking hands with covid-19 patients.
“I’m shaking hands continuously. I was at a hospital the other night where there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be please to know,” Johnson said.
“People obviously can make up their own minds [...] but I think the scientific evidence is [...] our judgement is wash... wash your hands is the crucial thing,” said Johnson.
At least four doctors have died in the UK from covid-19, and the country isn’t even counting how many nurses have died so far.
Update, 6:05 pm ET: Shortly after this article was published it was revealed that Michael Gove is self-isolating.
An unnamed member of Gove’s family has reportedly been showing symptoms of covid-19, according to Sky News. Gove doesn’t have any symptoms, according to the news outlet.