LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to an intensive care unit on Monday after his coronavirus symptoms worsened, and his Downing Street office said he was still conscious.
Britain has no formal succession plan should the prime minister become incapacitated, but Johnson, 55, asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputize for him.
Johnson was admitted to hospital on Sunday night and had been undergoing tests after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature, for more than 10 days.
Downing Street had said he was in good spirits and still in charge, though at about 1800 GMT he was moved to an intensive care unit – where the most serious cases are treated – at St Thomas’ hospital, across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament in central London.
Johnson had received oxygen, a source said.
“Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the Prime Minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital,” a spokesman for his office said.
“The PM has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is the First Secretary of State, to deputize for him where necessary,” Downing Street said. “The PM remains conscious at this time.”
Downing Street said he had been moved to the intensive care unit as “a precaution should he require ventilation to aid his recovery”.
Johnson, 55, tested positive for the virus on March 26.
His spokesman had earlier refused to answer directly after being asked whether he had pneumonia.
Johnson asked Raab, 46, to deputize.
Raab, the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, was brought up in the southern English region of Buckinghamshire and studied law at Oxford University before becoming a lawyer working on project finance, international litigation and competition law.
A karate black belt, he was appointed as foreign minister in Johnson’s first cabinet after the prime minister took office in July 2019.
Asked at a news conference earlier on Monday whether he had been in touch with Johnson on Monday by either text or by telephone, Raab said he had last spoken to the prime minister on Saturday.
On March 27, Johnson became the first leader of a major power to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Medics said patients with COVID-19 can deteriorate after about 10 days, with some developing pneumonia. National Health Service guidelines advise those who are self-isolating not go to hospital unless they develop new symptoms or become sufficiently unwell.
Johnson, who is not a smoker, said recently that he wanted to lose weight. He plays tennis and while mayor of London used to cycle around the capital.
The face of the 2016 Brexit campaign, he 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 new coronavirus outbreak than other European leaders, saying on March 3 that he had been shaking hands with coronavirus patients.
He changed tack when scientific projections showed a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom. On Monday, health officials said Britain’s death toll stood at 5,373.
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 had already penetrated the British government.
Johnson and his health minister tested positive last month and chief medical adviser Chris Whitty also self-isolated. Johnson’s pregnant 32-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also had symptoms but said on Saturday she was feeling better.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Kate Holton, William James, Kylie MacLellan, Elizabeth Howcroft, Paul Sandle and Costas Pitas; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Kevin Liffey and Howard Goller
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