LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in hospital undergoing tests on Monday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms for more than 10 days, but the government said he was in good spirits and still in charge.
Johnson, 55, who tested positive for the virus on March 26, was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London on Sunday night for “routine tests” with what his Downing Street office described as mild and then persistent symptoms.
His spokesman urged caution about media reports that Johnson was receiving oxygen treatment but refused to answer directly whether he had pneumonia. Johnson, the government said, was still in charge.
“On the advice of my doctor, I went into hospital for some routine tests as I’m still experiencing coronavirus symptoms,” Johnson said on Twitter.
“I’m in good spirits and keeping in touch with my team, as we work together to fight this virus and keep everyone safe.”
Johnson, who had been self-isolating in Downing Street, spent a comfortable night in the hospital and remained there under observation, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
There was, however, little detail.
It was not immediately clear how an ill prime minister could lead the government’s response to the outbreak from a hospital. Some medics told Reuters it was unclear what was meant by precautionary tests for COVID-19 complications.
Doctors said a person of Johnson’s age with COVID-19 symptoms after 10 days was likely to be assessed for their oxygen levels, lung, liver and kidney functions, and undergo an electrocardiogram heart check.
Asked at a news conference whether Johnson had, or was at risk of catching, pneumonia, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said he would not discuss an individual patient.
But he added that a “clear majority” of people who go to hospital with the coronavirus end up in a general, rather than intensive care, bed.
Britain has no formal succession plan should the prime minister become incapacitated, though Raab, 46, chaired the government’s emergency COVID-19 meeting on Monday.
Asked at the news conference 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.
The government said Raab would continue to chair the daily meeting while Johnson was in hospital but some in the Conservative Party called for him to formally step in for the prime minister until he was better.
“There are already problems which the prime minister’s illness will intensify,” said Paul Goodman, editor of the ConservativeHome website.
Raab, asked by a reporter if he was ready to take charge if needed, said he was not going to get into hypotheticals.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Johnson was a “strong man” and that all Americans were praying for him.
The pound fell against the dollar on news of his admission to hospital. It then rose when Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Monday morning he expected Johnson to be back at Downing Street shortly and was trading at $1.23.
On March 27, Johnson became the first leader of a major power to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Clearly the prime minister is finding it difficult to shake this thing off,” said Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University.
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.
But 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, though, had already penetrated the British government.
Johnson and his health minister tested positive last month and medical adviser 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 Kylie MacLellan, Elizabeth Howcroft, Paul Sandle and Costas Pitas, Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton, Michael Holden and Angus MacSwan/Mark Heinrich