Britain's Johnson stable as lockdown extension looms

London (AFP) –


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday began a fourth day in intensive care "improving" in his battle with coronavirus, as his government prepared to extend a nationwide lockdown introduced last month.

Johnson is the most high-profile world leader to become infected with COVID-19 and his transfer to intensive care on Monday is unprecedented for a prime minister during a national emergency in modern times.

"He's stable, improving, sat up and engaged with medical staff," Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC News. "I think things are getting better for him."

The disease has struck at the heart of the British government, infected more than 60,000 people nationwide and killed over 7,000, with another record daily death toll of 938 reported on Wednesday.

Senior ministers were set to discuss at Thursday's daily coronavirus response meeting the process for extending the stringent social distancing measures rolled out on March 23.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Johnson, will lead the so-called "war cabinet", as he has done since Monday.

However, ministers have made it clear no announcement on the status of the lockdown -- rolled out for an initial three weeks -- would be made until that period has ended on Monday, at the earliest.

The Sun newspaper reported the government's top scientific advisers will not meet until Friday to assess the situation.

"You shouldn't expect a decision today on restrictions," Dowden said, stressing the actual review would happen next week.

"Right now it's just beginning to work," he said of the lockdown, noting new COVID-19 cases in Britain were not "accelerating".

"When we have the opportunity to change it, we will, but that is not the moment now."

- 'Relentless' -

Johnson arrived in hospital on Sunday night following concerns he still had a cough and high temperature 10 days after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

He had spent the previous nine days in self-isolation in a flat above his Downing Street office.

The 55-year-old Conservative leader was transferred to intensive care on Monday night on the advice of his medical team as his condition was seen to be deteriorating.

He has received messages of support from around the world, with US President Donald Trump sending best wishes to his "very good friend". Russian leader Vladimir Putin said Johnson's "energy, optimism and sense of humour" would see him through.

Experts have said it was not uncommon for COVID-19 patients to move to intensive care, but said it showed his condition was serious.

The British government has been criticised for a slow response to the pandemic, initially refusing to follow other European countries in requiring people to stay home as the virus spread rapidly across the globe.

Johnson himself said in early March that he was still shaking hands with people -- only for COVID-19 to sweep through the British establishment weeks later.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, have both since been infected, although they have since recovered.

The government has insisted that its coronavirus response has been led by the medical and scientific evidence throughout.

Attention is now increasingly focused on when it might be able to lift the unprecedented restrictions it eventually put in place to stem the spread.

Meanwhile, with good weather forecast for the upcoming long Easter weekend, The Times said political leaders from across Britain will unite to launch a "stay at home this Easter" campaign.

"We need to be relentless," a source told the paper.