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UK PM Boris Johnson ‘in charge’ despite coronavirus hospitalisation

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 27 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and has been self-isolating in his flat above Downing Street ever since.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 27 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and has been self-isolating in his flat above Downing Street ever since. © Pippa FOWLES 10 Downing Street, via AFP (file photo)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in hospital in London on Monday suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms 10 days after testing positive for the virus, but Downing Street said he remained in charge of the government.

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Johnson, who had been isolating in Downing Street after testing positive for the virus last month, was taken to hospital on Sunday night because he still had a high temperature and his doctors felt he needed additional tests.

The prime minister will undergo "precautionary" tests on Monday and will continue to lead the government, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said.

"Obviously today, he's in hospital having the tests but he'll continue to be kept informed as to what's happening and to be in charge of the government," Jenrick said.

"We all hope and expect he'll be able to get back to Number 10 soon and continue the work that he has been doing."

On March 27, Johnson became the first leader of a major power to announce that he had tested positive. The 55-year-old 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 said this was not an emergency admission. 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will chair the government's emergency COVID-19 meeting on Monday.

With only an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents to go by, there is no formal succession plan should the prime minister become incapacitated.

Queen Elizabeth, who delivered a rallying call on Sunday to the British people just as Johnson was admitted, has been informed of his admission to hospital, Buckingham Palace said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Johnson was a "strong man" as he passed on his nation's best wishes.

"All Americans are praying for him," Trump told a news conference. "He's a friend of mine, he's a great gentleman and a great leader, and as you know he went to the hospital today but I'm hopeful and sure that he's going to be fine."

The pound fell against the dollar and euro, and was trading at $1.2227 on Monday.

"When a head of state or government is stricken like this, it will cause concern for holders of sterling and sterling assets," said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

‘Precautionary tests’

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

"Clearly the prime minister is finding it difficult to shake this thing off," said Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University.

"What it does show is how difficult it is to predict how this infection will develop, and whilst most people will experience nothing more than an annoying cold, for others this can develop into a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease."

Medics said that patients with COVID-19 can deteriorate after about 10 days, with some developing pneumonia.

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

PM in hospital

Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit campaign, won a resounding election victory in December before leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan. 31.

He has faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the novel coronavirus outbreak than other 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.

The virus, though, had already 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 fiancée, 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.

He has posted a series of video messages 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.

(REUTERS)

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