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Britain's Boris Johnson Is In Intensive Care Unit Due To COVID-19


Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent the night in a London hospital in the intensive care unit. He has COVID-19, and his condition has declined in the past few days. Johnson's government is already playing catch-up in dealing with the virus. It has killed nearly 5,400 people in the U.K. NPR's Frank Langfitt is following this story, and he joins us now from outside of London. Hi, Frank.


KING: How is Boris Johnson doing?

LANGFITT: Well, he - what we understand is he's been in the ICU since yesterday evening. This all happened - and he's had this since late last month; went into a sudden decline on Sunday, went across the river to St. Thomas' Hospital from No. 10 Downing Street, was put in the ICU as a precaution. Michael Gove - he runs the U.K.'s Cabinet Office - he was on the radio here this morning talking to LBC. It's talk radio here in London. And this is the most recent update we have on the prime minister.


MICHAEL GOVE: He's not on a ventilator, no. The prime minister has received some oxygen support, and he's kept under, of course, close supervision.

LANGFITT: I know most COVID-19 patients here go on a ventilator within 24 hours. But No. 10 Downing Street is just not giving us any other details right now. Johnson, by nature - we've talked about this before - he's a sort of upbeat kind of national cheerleader. He's inclined to minimize challenges. And even after he was admitted to the hospital yesterday, he was tweeting that he was in good spirits and sort of rallying the troops here in the United Kingdom to fight the coronavirus.

KING: Which is - which tracks with how Johnson normally behaves.


KING: But now he's in the ICU, which is where you go to heal. So who is running the government there?

LANGFITT: Well, that's a great question. The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has taken over some duties and is working with the cabinet. And Raab was asked about this yesterday at a press conference - and this was even before the prime minister was in the ICU - and this is what Raab had to say.


DOMINIC RAAB: The prime minister asked me as first secretary to deputize for him when necessary in driving forward the government's plans to defeat coronavirus.

LANGFITT: Of course, this does raise a basic political question, which is, you know, how can you run the government here, involving this incredible crisis, from an ICU bed? Reporters at the press conference really pushed Raab on this, but they didn't get really clear answers. And I think that's going to be one of the questions today that the government's going to have to address, is exactly who's doing what and what role, if any, is Boris Johnson playing in the daily running of this government.

KING: Let me pull back a little and ask you how the U.K. is doing overall in fighting the virus.

LANGFITT: Well, definitely, as you were pointing out in the beginning of this, behind the curve. You know, initially, Boris Johnson downplayed this, and there was talk and thoughts in the government that this might just - the coronavirus might infect the majority of the population. There was even a mention a number of times of herd immunity and the possible strategy to isolate the elderly and the vulnerable. I think now the government vehemently denies that was ever a strategy. But as it became clear that that could lead to a huge death toll, there was a move to a lockdown.

The problem right now, though, Noel, is the government doesn't have the testing capacity it needs. Only 250,000 tests so far, roughly, in a population of more than 66 million. And then many people are concerned that the lockdown could go on for a long time because the government won't be able to really be able to track this virus very well and be very concerned about a rebound if they let people out of their homes.

KING: So with respect to the testing, some of the same problems we're seeing in the United States.

LANGFITT: Very familiar.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt joining us from outside of London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.