The COVID-19 outbreak has hit the British government hard, with the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and England’s Chief Medical Officer all developing symptoms of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday that he had tested positive for the virus after developing a fever and persistent cough Thursday. “So I am working from home. I’m self-isolating,” he said in a video message. “But be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”
Mr. Johnson will self-isolate for seven days in No. 10 Downing Street. His fiancée, Carrie Symonds who is pregnant, has moved to another location.
A few hours later, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had also tested positive after feeling unwell, and Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer in England, said he had developed symptoms. Both are now in self-isolation for seven days.
The three men had been leading the government’s response to the outbreak, and the news that they all have symptoms has shaken the country’s faith in that effort. Several other senior officials have also been hit with the virus, including the country’s Brexit negotiator, David Frost, who tested positive last week, and a handful of staff at No. 10 who have been self-isolating. It’s suspected that other cabinet ministers have also been infected.
Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 27, 2020
I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.
Together we will beat this. #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/9Te6aFP0Ri
On Friday, Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which manages the cabinet office, insisted that Mr. Johnson was still overseeing the government’s COVID-19 measures and that all cabinet ministers had been following self-distancing guidelines. “The fact that the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have contracted the virus is a reminder that the virus does not discriminate,” Mr. Gove told a news conference. “We are all at risk.”
There has also been concern that the Queen may have been exposed to the virus. Mr. Johnson holds weekly meetings with the 93-year-old monarch, and while the last two have been conducted by phone, they met face to face on March 11. Earlier this week, Prince Charles, 71, said he had tested positive and was self-isolating at a home on the Queen’s Balmoral Estate in Scotland. He last met with the Queen on March 12 at Buckingham Palace, but officials said they don’t believe he was contagious until the next day. It’s not clear if the Queen has been tested. She has relocated to Windsor Castle, and palace officials said Friday that she “remains in good health” and is “following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare.”
The British government has been scrambling to manage the pandemic, and Mr. Johnson has put the country under a near-total lockdown. Temporary hospitals are also being built in convention centres in London, Manchester and Birmingham to help ease the pressure on the National Health Service.
But the spread of infections shows no sign of slowing down in Britain or much of Europe. On Friday, the Department of Health reported 14,579 confirmed cases in the U.K., and the number has been doubling every three to four days. So far, 759 people have died.
The pandemic is also far from over in Italy, where the number of cases has jumped to 86,498, which is higher than in China. Italy recorded 919 deaths Friday, bringing the total to 9,134. “We haven’t reached the peak and we haven’t passed it,” the chief of the Superior Health Institute, Silvio Brusaferro, told reporters. Spain, too, saw its number of confirmed cases rise to 64,059, while total deaths increased by 769 Friday to 4,858.
There were some hopeful signs. The number of new infections in Italy was slightly lower Friday than on Thursday. And in Spain, the increase in cases has remained constant in percentage terms for the past three days. Health officials said those were indications that the outbreak could be nearing its peak in both countries.
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