UK virus lockdown extension looms as Johnson's health 'improves'
LONDON, United Kingdom (UPDATED) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's health "continues to improve" on his fourth day in COVID-19 intensive care, his spokesman said Thursday, April 9, while the government prepared to extend a nationwide lockdown.
"The prime minister had a good night and continues to improve in intensive care at St Thomas' Hospital. He's in good spirits," the spokesman added.
He said Johnson was not working and had received "standard oxygen treatment."
Earlier, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC News. "I think things are getting better for him."
Johnson is the most high-profile world leader to suffer from the coronavirus and his transfer to intensive care on Monday, April 6, was unprecedented for a prime minister during a national emergency in modern times.
While much of the focus in Britain has been on Johnson's health, there is also concern over the numbers of people infected with the virus.
On Wednesday, April 8, the government announced an increase of 938 deaths, taking the UK total to 7,097 along with a record daily death toll of 938, a figure close to those posted by Italy and Spain at their peaks. Fresh figures were expected later Thursday.
Senior ministers were to discuss extending strict social distancing measures rolled out on March 23, during a daily coronavirus response meeting.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Johnson, will lead the "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 3 weeks – would be made until that period has ended on Monday, April 13, at the earliest.
"You shouldn't expect a decision today on restrictions," Dowden said, stressing the actual review would happen next week.
Asked if the British government might give police extra powers during the lockdown, the Downing Street spokesman said: "For now our focus is on ensuring that the steps that we already have in place are properly enforced."
In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said Thursday that its lockdown was likely to continue "for some weeks to come."
She also told a press conference there was "no prospect" of the measures being lifted in the coming days.
Meanwhile, ministers warned the public to follow social distancing rules ahead of the Easter weekend when high temperatures are forecast.
"We'll have to stay at home and the reason why we're having to stay at home is in order to protect the NHS and save lives," added Dowden.
Johnson arrived in hospital late Sunday, April 5, following concerns he still had a cough and high temperature 10 days after being diagnosed with coronavirus.
He had spent the previous 9 days in self-isolation in a flat above his Downing Street office.
The 55-year-old Conservative leader was transferred to intensive care Monday as his condition was deemed 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 humor" would see him through.
The British government has been criticized 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.
The government has insisted its coronavirus response has been led by medical and scientific evidence throughout.
Elsewhere in the UK on Thursday, Southampton became the first top level club to defer players' wages amid a growing row about whether Premier League footballers – with an average salary of 3 million pounds ($3.7 million) – should give up some of their pay to help the nation. – Rappler.com