Tuesday 7 April 2020

'We pray he will make a quick recovery': Michael Gove says Boris Johnson's intensive care battle is 'truly frightening' as he reveals the PM has been struggling for days - vowing No10 will be honest about his condition

Michael Gove says Boris Johnson's intensive care battle is 'truly frightening'

In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove said Mr Johnson was getting the 'best care'.

'As we speak the PM is in intensive care being looked after by his medical team receiving the very, very best care from the team in St Thomas' and our hopes and prayers are with him and with his family,' he told BBC Breakfast.   

He said Mr Johnson's plight should demonstrate the need to follow social distancing rules, as the virus 'has a malevolence that is truly frightening'. 

Mr Gove played down concerns that the government will be paralysed with the leader out of action, insisting that Mr Johnson had already been on a 'stripped back diary' for days and 'Cabinet is the supreme decision-making body', 

However, he dodged questions about whether Mr Raab has been given crucial national security responsibilities such as control of the nuclear deterrent and military.   

New Prime Ministers usually write 'letters of last resort' to nuclear submarine captains, setting out instructions if the government is wiped out by an enemy strike. However, it is not clear whether Mr Johnson's letters will still apply, or Mr Raab will pen new versions.

MPs have raised an alarm that hostile states such as Russia - which has already been accused of spreading disinformation about Mr Johnson's condition - could try to exploit Britain's 'weakness'. 

General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said the armed forces 'work straight through to the Prime Minister', although he suggested the National Security Council (NSC) will now fill the gap. 

The Queen is being kept informed about Mr Johnson's condition. The monarch appoints the PM, choosing the individual who is best placed to carry a majority in the Commons.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump revealed he has offered to send Mr Johnson experimental drugs to treat his coronavirus.

'I've asked two of the leading companies ... They've come with the solutions and just have done incredible jobs – and I've asked him to contact London immediately,' Mr Trump said. 'The London office has whatever they need. We'll see if we can be of help. We've contacted all of Boris's doctors, and we'll see what is going to take place, but they are ready to go.' 

The PM's sharp downturn came 11 days after he first suffered coronavirus symptoms and went into isolation. He looked increasingly unwell when glimpsed in public and in 'selfie' videos posted on on social media, and ministers were then shocked by his grim appearance at a Zoom conference on Sunday.

Downing Street sources confirmed Mr Johnson is not yet on a ventilator - but was moved to intensive care to be near one if needed. Some medical experts forecasting this course of action is now 'very likely'.

Two thirds of patients in intensive care with coronavirus are sedated and put on a ventilator within 24 hours of arriving as the illness attacks their lungs. 

As the Prime Minister was treated in hospital:

A further 439 coronavirus deaths were announced, taking the toll to 5,373, while the number of patients rose by 3,802 to 51,608;
World leaders and politicians around the globe rallied around Mr Johnson, who received well-wishers from David Cameron, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump;
Health experts tonight appeared unanimous in their view that the PM's admission to intensive care means he is 'extremely sick';
Humiliated Nicola Sturgeon has admitted the effort to combat coronavirus has been damaged after she was forced to accept the resignation of Scotland's chief medical officer for flouting her own lockdown rules. 

Only two hours before his move to intensive care, No10 was insisting Mr Johnson was still spearheading the government's coronavirus response, despite de facto deputy Mr Raab chairing the morning crisis meeting.

Yet shortly after the Foreign Secretary left the Number 10 podium following the daily 5pm press briefing, Mr Johnson, 55, suffered breathing problem. 

Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, held an emergency video conference with the cabinet to tell them the bad news, in a moment one minister described as 'truly shocking'. 

No10 has been urged to be more 'transparent' about the premier's condition, amid claims a hospital bed was being prepared for him as early as last Thursday. 

Mr Johnson was conscious last night and had not been intubated - the process of putting a tube in the windpipe to aid breathing. 

He required around four litres of oxygen rather than the 15 litres used by an average Covid-19 ICU patient, according to the Times. 

Speaking last night, Mr Raab vowed that 'government business will continue' and said there is a strong 'team spirit' rallying around the leader.  He also reassured that the premier was 'receiving excellent care' and thanked the NHS staff who were treating him and other patients across Britain. 

Mr Johnson's handing of power to Mr Raab - the second most senior cabinet minister after the PM himself - came after days of insisting he remained in the driving seat of the UK's fightback against the virus.

But on Sunday, the tenth day of isolation in his Number 11 flat, Mr Johnson's declining health became clear to Cabinet colleagues during a 10am Zoom video conference call. 

During the 45-minute meeting with ministers including Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock, insiders described the PM as pale and strained, while some detected breathlessness as he spoke. 

A Number 10 spokeswoman said last night: 'Since Sunday evening, the Prime Minister has been under the care of doctors at St Thomas' Hospital, in London, after being admitted with persistent symptoms of coronavirus.

'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.

'The PM has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is the First Secretary of State, to deputise for him where necessary.

'The PM is receiving excellent care, and thanks all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication.'

Downing Street has been accused of downplaying the seriousness of Mr Johnson's illness.

When he was admitted to hospital on Sunday night, Number 10 made clear he was undergoing tests as a precaution on the advice of his doctor.

But a Tory source said: 'No 10 tried to play this down but think it through: the Prime Minister was being taken to hospital in his car at 8pm on Sunday, the precise moment the Queen was making her broadcast to the nation. It therefore cannot have been completely routine.'

Insiders on the Sunday Zoom cabinet call also claimed it was clear Mr Johnson was not well.

A senior Whitehall source said: 'His symptoms were persisting. He was plainly not getting any better. In fact he'd got worse.'  

Determined to emulate the grit of his political hero Winston Churchill, insiders said Mr Johnson was reluctant to go to hospital. 

A source said: 'Do not underestimate the macho nature of the Westminster political Establishment. Boris will not have wanted to look weak.'  

However, he eventually gave ground to his doctor and travelled to St Thomas' with bodyguards on Sunday night. 

It was the first time Mr Johnson was believed to have left Downing Street since Thursday, when he stood on the steps of Number 11 to applaud NHS workers at 8pm. 

This was the last time the PM has been seen in public and came amid whisperings in Westminster that he was not as well as aides were claiming.

As early as Thursday, a bed was being prepared for Mr Johnson at St Thomas', a source told the Guardian.

The next day, wearing an open collar shirt and looking exhausted, the PM used a Twitter video to reveal he had failed to shake off his high temperature and so would continue to self-isolate, while still keeping a firm hand on the tiller. 

Mr Raab is now primed to take charge of the government's coronavirus response and deputise for Mr Johnson 'where necessary', although it is understood he will not be a temporary PM. 

At yesterday's Downing Street press briefing, he confirmed a further 439 coronavirus deaths, taking the toll to 5,373, while the number of patients rose by 3,802 to 51,608.  

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