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07 Apr 2020


Prime Minister Boris Johnson was last night admitted to intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital as his coronavirus symptoms deteriorated. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is now deputising for him, but is not officially Deputy Prime Minister. Downing Street has confirmed that Raab will now chair the 9.15am ‘war room’ meeting each morning that sits above the four Covid-19 implementation committees. Through the work of these committees – which were formed at the beginning of the crisis and are each led by a senior Cabinet member – the government are reinforcing the message that they are operating effectively in the Prime Minister’s absence. However, there have been calls today for greater clarity on the extent of Raab’s powers should the Prime Minister remain incapacitated for some time.

Dominic Raab confirmed in this evening’s press conference that Boris Johnson was stable overnight, and has been receiving standard oxygen treatment. He is breathing without assistance and the government will provide further updates as soon as there are any material developments.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Office Secretary Michael Gove is now self-isolating at home after a family member has shown symptoms of the disease, and while he continues to carry out his work, he will now also be absent from the government’s daily press briefings. Downing Street have also not confirmed whether the current lockdown measures will be reviewed for certain on Monday evening (13 April – the three-week deadline) or whether a review will take place later next week.

With the above in mind, the government – already greatly unsettled by the condition of the Prime Minister and the affect of Covid-19 on some of its key figures – is set to face continued pressure, including constructively from new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, on coronavirus testing, PPE equipment and – increasingly – on developing an exit strategy from the lockdown when improvements, hinted at this evening by Sir Patrick Vallance, are seen more widely.

Summary of the Press Conference

Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary and deputising for the Prime Minister

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson is receiving the very best care from the excellent team at St Thomas’ Hospital. He was stable overnight, has been receiving standard oxygen treatment and is breathing without assistance. He has not required ventilation or any invasive respiratory support. His progress will be monitored and further updates will be given as soon as there are any material developments.
  • The Prime Minister has asked me to deputise for him. I chaired this morning’s senior meeting and chaired an update to cabinet this afternoon. (When asked on potential disagreements in Cabinet) Decision making takes place through collective Cabinet responsibility, but we received clear instructions from the Prime Minister and we are focused with total unity and resolve, and will implement these instructions by the time he comes back.
  • As will be the case for all who work with people who have had coronavirus, it will be a shock to all of us. Boris is not just the Prime Minister and a boss, he is a colleague and a friend. All of our thoughts and prayers are with him, Carrie and his family, and I am confident he will pull through. He’s a fighter and I am sure he will soon be back at the helm leading us through this crisis in short order.
  • The government know exactly what the Prime Minister wants and expects from us. I can reassure Boris Johnson and the public that his team will not blink or flinch from the task at hand at this crucial moment. We will keep our focus and resolve with a calm determination in following the government’s plan to defeat the virus.
  • I have received reports from the four cabinet committee groups on action that is being taken to fight the virus, including work on increasing NHS capacity, the procurement of equipment, the delivery of public services, economic support and all efforts taking place on the home front.
  • Can report today that, through continuous monitoring and testing, a total of 213,181 people have been tested and 55,242 have tested positive for Covid-19. The total number of hospital admissions currently stands at 18,589. Of those who have contracted the virus, 6159 have sadly died so far. Every death is a tragedy in this pandemic.
  • These figures reinforce the most important thing we can do right now, which is to keep on following the government advice to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Sir Patrick Vallance, UK Chief Scientific Adviser

Presented the following tracker slides:

  • Transport use – indicates very substantial reductions in public transport and motor vehicles and shows contact between people has reduced dramatically. That should lead to a substantial reduction in the transmission of the virus.
  • New UK coronavirus cases – there is not the big upswing of growth that was talked about at the beginning. It is possible we are seeing the beginning of a change in terms of flattening the curve but we won’t know for sure for another week or so. It’s therefore important that we keep new cases down as it reduces people going in to hospital. The aim is to reduce the number of cases below the capacity of the NHS.
  • Hospital admissions – there has been a steady increase since 16 March through to 7 April but there hasn’t been an accelerated take off and it is possible we are beginning to see the start of a change where we might see numbers of admissions flattening. Again, we won’t be sure for a week or so and we need to keep monitoring the situation. All this suggests things could be moving in the right direction but it is important we carry on with the measures we have in place. It’s important that ICU numbers are kept down as well, and this may also be moving in right direction. There are also clinical trials starting for treatments that might make a difference, with over 1,900 patients over 100 hospitals in clinical trials as of this afternoon.
  • Critical care beds – need has been increasing since 21 March through to 6 April. It is most marked in London but will increase in the rest of the country too. The new Nightingale Hospitals are what the NHS is planning to use to cope with these numbers.
  • Deaths – despite today’s uptick, the UK is still a couple of weeks behind France and Italy but things move across the EU in same direction: deaths lag behind ICU cases by a couple of weeks so we should start to see death rates coming down in two weeks’ time.

Government announcements

  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, deputising for the Prime Minister, confirmed at this evening’s press conference that Boris Johnson is in a ‘stable’ condition in intensive care and that he is breathing without assistance. The government will provide further updates as soon as there are material developments.
  • Downing Street said this lunchtime that Boris Johnson does not have pneumonia, and that he has not required mechanical ventilation or non-invasive respiratory support.
  • Downing Street also confirmed today that Chancellor Rishi Sunak would take over if current deputy Dominic Raab became ill. It was confirmed that Raab does not have the authority to ‘hire and fire’ people in government while he is deputising for the Prime Minister. However, Dominic Raab will chair the 9.15am meetings that sit above the four Covid-19 implementation committees.
  • Tobias Ellwood MP (Chair of the Defence Committee) has called for greater clarity from the government about who now was responsibility for national security decisions, while Lord Heseltine – who served as deputy prime minister under John Major – has asked for greater clarity about what Dominic Raab can do in his position as deputy.
  • Cabinet Office Secretary Michael Gove is self-isolating because a member of his family has displayed symptoms of coronavirus. He is not currently displaying any symptoms of coronavirus and he has not been tested. He is continuing to work as normal, and conducted this morning’s media round via videolink. This morning he said that the Prime Minister “is not on a ventilator” and has “received oxygen support”.
  • The government’s chief pandemic modeller Graham Medley, who oversees mathematical modelling for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, had said that Britain will be able to take control of the coronavirus outbreak over the next week and must then consider a “targeted” way of continuing restrictions.
  • The government is to make extra funding available for schools to cover additional costs during the coronavirus outbreak, including free school meals over the Easter holidays. The government is offering £25,000-75,000 per school as additional funding to cover the cost of keeping schools open and additional cleaning costs during the crisis in cases of suspected coronavirus.
  • The Queen has marked World Health Day by issuing a message to health workers, thanking them for their “selfless commitment and diligence” as they “undertake vitally important roles to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of people across the Commonwealth, and around the world.” The Queen also sent a message to Carrie Symonds and the Johnson family, wishing the Prime Minister a full and speedy recovery.

Parliamentary updates

  • New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has spoken to Dominic Raab, offering to work ‘constructively’ with ministers to get through the crisis. Starmer told the BBC that “people are clearly anxious. I know the business of government will continue. I was in touch with the Foreign Secretary last night, and I want to say that the Labour Party will act in the national interest. That’s why I have offered to act constructively with the government and support them where that’s the right thing to do, and push them further where we need to do it.”
  • Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has told MPs on the Justice Select Committee that he is not currently considering the release of inmates in open prisons.