Boris Johnson 'stable' and still receiving oxygen but does not have pneumonia in intensive care, No 10 says

The cabinet – not Dominic Raab alone – will make key decisions while prime minister is stricken, he insists

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
,Jon Stone
Tuesday 07 April 2020 20:16 BST
Boris Johnson received oxygen but is not on ventilator in intensive care, Michael Gove says

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Boris Johnson is a fighter who will pull through despite being admitted to an intensive care unit with coronavirus, Dominic Raab has said.

The Foreign Secretary, who is deputising for the prime minister during his absence, said he was "confident" Mr Johnson would be “back at the helm” soon.

He admitted the deterioration in Mr Johnson’s condition on Monday had come as a shock to ministers, however.

Mr Johnson has received oxygen but is "stable" and has not been diagnosed with pneumonia or put on a ventilator, Downing Street has said, in the latest update about the prime minister's health situation.

The news comes as Michael Gove confirmed that the cabinet as a collective body – not Dominic Raab alone – will be charged with making key decisions in Mr Johnson's absence from illness.

The prime minister's spokesperson spokesman said the decision to move Mr Johnson to intensive care was a "precautionary step" in case he needed to be put on a ventilator.

"The Prime Minister has been stable overnight and remains in good spirits," the spokesman said, echoing similar language used on Monday.

"He is receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance. He has not required mechanical ventilation or non-invasive respiratory support."

The spokesperson rejected claims that No.10 had sought to downplay the prime minister's situation, telling reporters: "We have been fully frank with you throughout. We have issued you with regular updates on the Prime Minister's health.

"His condition worsened yesterday afternoon. A decision was taken that he needed to be moved to an intensive care unit at around 7pm. We informed you all as soon as was practically possible. We have a commitment to be as transparent as we can be throughout this process."

Speaking separately on Tuesday Mr Gove, the cabinet office minister insisted Mr Johnson had followed a “stripped back” diary last week, as he isolated with coronavirus, after criticism that he had refused to rest and recover.

And he sought to play down the idea that Mr Raab, the foreign secretary No 10 described as standing in as the nation’s leader “where necessary”, had the authority to take full charge.

“The prime minister always remains the prime minister,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that any decision to ease the lockdown “will be taken collectively”.

Asked who now had the authority to press the nuclear button, if the UK came under attack, Mr Gove replied: “I simply can’t talk about national security matters.”

The comments about Mr Johnson’s health are the first indication that he has not deteriorated since the dramatic announcement, at 8.10pm, that he had been moved into ICU.

Some medical experts believe he has, while not receiving a tube into the windpipe, been given an intensive treatment known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

But two-thirds of patients admitted to ICU have required ventilation in the first 24 hours – a process requiring heavy sedation, which would put the prime minister out of action for many days.

Although Mr Raab is the effective deputy prime minister, the post – in the absence of a written constitution – is widely seen as ‘first among equals’, rather than granting full power.

Bob Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, suggested the cabinet would have to decide who would formally take over, if Mr Johnson failed to recover quickly.

“If the prime minister was unable to continue, the Conservative Party may have to choose a new leader,” he suggested.

Mr Gove said Mr Johnson was someone with “a great zest for life” and “a force of nature”, adding: “It's naturally concerning when the prime minister is ill, but he is receiving the best possible treatment.”

Asked whether Mr Raab had the same power to hire and fire cabinet members, Mr Gove replied: “I don't think there's any suggestion of anything other than a great team spirit in government as we all work together at this time.”

Asked if there was any suggestion of bringing Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, into a national government, he said: “I don't think anyone is talking in those terms, no.”

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