LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson was back on his feet in his recovery from COVID-19 on Friday, while his fellow Britons were told to resist the temptation of going out in the spring sunshine over Easter as the coronavirus death toll rose to nearly 9,000.
The prime minister’s rapid health decline shook the country earlier this week, but he came out of three nights of intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital on Thursday. He was admitted to the hospital on Sunday after his symptoms persisted.
A spokesman for Johnson said the prime minister, 55, was back on a hospital ward as he continued his recovery, which was said to be at an early stage.
“I was told he was waving his thanks to all of the nurses and doctors he saw as he was moved from the intensive care unit back to the ward,” the spokesman said. “The hospital said that he was in extremely good spirits last night.”
His Downing Street office said later that Johnson had been able to do short walks, between periods of rest, as part of the care he was receiving.
“He has spoken to his doctors and thanks the whole clinical team for the incredible care,” a spokesman said.
Johnson was the first world leader to be hospitalised with the coronavirus, forcing him to hand control to foreign minister Dominic Raab just as Britain’s coronavirus outbreak worsened drastically.
In the prime minister’s absence, the government must consider if and when it can end restrictions on movement. Raab said on Thursday it was too early to make a decision because the country had not yet reached the peak of the outbreak.
The UK coronavirus death toll rose by 980 to 8,958 people as of 1600 GMT on April 9, health minister Matt Hancock said on Friday – the fifth highest in the world.
Although Johnson’s condition was improving, it was unclear how long he would be incapacitated.
His spokesman said his recovery was only just beginning and he would take advice from his medical team.
“He must rest up,” his father, Stanley Johnson, told BBC radio. “You cannot walk away from this and go straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”
Johnson’s pregnant fiancee, Carrie Symonds, who has also had coronavirus symptoms, tweeted a rainbow picture – in support of healthcare workers – along with hand-clapping emojis.
The government says it will have a better idea by next week of whether the lockdown has succeeded in reducing infections and hospital admissions.
“We’ve started already to see plateauing,” said epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, a professor at Imperial College in London, who has helped to shape the government’s response.
It will take several more days for the pace of deaths to drop and more weeks to draw definitive conclusions that could allow restrictions to be lifted, he added to BBC radio.
Britons are putting up with a third week of stringent restrictions, during which police have assumed new powers to fine people who leave home unless on essential work or seeking food and medicines.
The four-day Easter break began on Friday with bright sunshine, and authorities were on the lookout for those tempted out to see family and friends.
Scotland’s chief medical officer has already resigned after flouting her own advice to stay at home, and a senior minister was under pressure on Friday after newspapers said he travelled to a second home outside London and visited his parents.
“For clarity – my parents asked me to deliver some essentials – including medicines,” housing minister Robert Jenrick tweeted in defence, adding that he had left London to return to his family home.
“We are confident that he complied with the social distancing rules,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, David Goodman and Frances Kerry