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British PM Moved to Intensive Care After Being Admitted to Hospital for Coronavirus

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Police officers and building workers are seen outside St Thomas' Hospital in London after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted with persistent coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, London, April 6, 2020.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved to intensive care after his conditioned worsened Monday. Johnson was diagnosed with the coronavirus 10 days ago.

A statement from Downing Street Monday said Johnson asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab "to deputize for him where necessary."

The 55-year-old was taken to St Thomas' Hospital in central London at around 8 p.m. local time Sunday. He did not require an ambulance.

Earlier Monday, Raab said Johnson spent a "comfortable night" in the hospital, run by Britain's National Health Service (NHS), and "is in good spirits." Raab has been chairing emergency meetings in Johnson's absence.

Johnson's office did not say on Monday what treatments the prime minister is receiving. But a cabinet source told VOA's Jamie Dettmer that Johnson had breathing difficulties and was given oxygen before being moved into ICU. He is not hooked up to a ventilator, they said.

Queen’s Address Overshadowed as British Prime Minister Hospitalized
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The prime minister tweeted earlier Monday, saying, "Last night, on the advice of my doctor, I went into hospital for some routine tests as I'm still experiencing coronavirus symptoms." He thanked the "brilliant NHS staff taking care of me and others in this difficult time."

Johnson had previously posted several video messages while under self-isolation in his residence at 10 Downing Street, reassuring the public that his symptoms were mild and urging Britons to adhere to the nationwide lockdown.

"I am absolutely confident that we will beat it and we will beat it together, and we will do it by staying at home," Johnson said in a message posted last week. Observers say it's clear he is quite unwell and has been suffering from a fever for several days.

"There are instances where people who are otherwise fit and healthy, and who are not above the 70-year-old sort of age qualification for isolating, where they struggle a bit. And certain people do that. We don't understand why," noted Dr. Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Britain's University of Reading.

Boris Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, is also showing symptoms of COVID-19. She wrote on Twitter that she has not been tested and is self-isolating at her London home.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a video conference in the study of 10 Downing Street in London, with other G-20 leaders summit, March 26, 2020.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a video conference in the study of 10 Downing Street in London, with other G-20 leaders summit, March 26, 2020.

U.S. President Donald Trump wished Johnson a speedy recovery Sunday.

"I want to express our nation's well wishes to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he wages his own personal fight with the virus," Trump said at the beginning of a White House press conference Sunday. "All Americans are praying for him. He's a friend of mine, is a great gentleman and a great leader. And he's, as you know, he was brought to the hospital today. But I'm hopeful and sure that he's going to be fine. He's strong man, a strong person."

There are concerns however that Johnson may struggle to lead Britain's response, with indications that the country is following a similar trajectory as the worst-hit European nations, Italy and Spain. As of Monday, Britain had recorded 5,373 deaths from the coronavirus with more than 51,000 infections.

Next steps

What happens if Johnson is unable to continue as prime minister is not entirely clear. Britain doesn't have a written constitution and so, unlike the U.S., there are no clear lines of succession — and there is much leeway for the monarch to decide on who should take up the reins of power.

In 1907, the then-prime minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman suffered a string of heart attacks and resigned 19 days before dying in Downing Street. There was no formal mechanism to elect a replacement and Edward VII turned to Campbell-Bannerman's finance minister, or chancellor of the exchequer, Herbert Asquith, to serve as prime minister.

In October 1963, the then-Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, whose government had been buffeted by scandals, chose to resign while in the hospital undergoing treatment for what turned out to be benign prostate tumor. While recovering he wrote a memorandum at the request of Buckingham Palace setting out a process by which "soundings" would be taken of the cabinet and Conservative lawmakers to select his successor. The queen did not want to be placed in the position of having to select a successor herself having done that in 1957 following the abrupt resignation of Macmillan's predecessor, Anthony Eden, prompting a political outcry.

This time around, the Conservative party does have a formal mechanism to elect a successor to Johnson, if needed. But the time it would take — weeks or even months — Downing Street sources say would be impracticable under the current circumstances.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab delivers a speech during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London, April 6, 2020, in this photo provided by 10 Downing Street.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab delivers a speech during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London, April 6, 2020, in this photo provided by 10 Downing Street.

Currently while Johnson is in intensive care in a London hospital, he has left his foreign minister, Dominic Raab, to deputize for him in the day-to-day running of the country. But Downing Street emphasized in a statement Monday that Raab is not the de-facto prime minister.

Senior Conservative officials told VOA that if Johnson is unable to continue, party managers would likely take soundings of the cabinet and Conservative lawmakers to determine who they favored to succeed Johnson. The cabinet secretary would update the palace, and the person who the cabinet and parliamentary party favored would ask the queen for her approval. The monarch would almost certainly be guided by the internal decision-making process of the ruling Conservative party, although she is not bound by their decision.

Raab could emerge as the favorite, but Michael Gove, a senior minister, or the current health minister Matt Hancock are also seen as strong contenders.

The Queen

With the nation in crisis, Queen Elizabeth II – Britain's official head of state – made a rare televised address Sunday night from Windsor Castle outside London, where she is staying as the COVID-19 outbreak grips the capital. The monarch invoked Britain's struggles through the Second World War.

In this image taken from video and made available by Buckingham Palace, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II addresses the nation and the Commonwealth from Windsor Castle, Windsor, England,  April 5, 2020.
In this image taken from video and made available by Buckingham Palace, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II addresses the nation and the Commonwealth from Windsor Castle, Windsor, England,  April 5, 2020.

"I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all," Queen Elizabeth said.

The queen went on to recall her first broadcast made in 1940: "...helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety."

"We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again."

The queen's son and heir to the throne, Prince Charles, was diagnosed with the coronavirus two weeks ago. He has ended his period of self-isolation after making a full recovery.

The monarch's stirring words were well-received by a weary nation, fearful of the health and economic challenges that lie ahead.

Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.

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