UK PM Johnson ‘stable’ in intensive care, needed oxygen after COVID-19 symptoms worsened

By William James and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was stable in intensive care on Tuesday after receiving oxygen support to help him battle COVID-19, while his foreign minister led the government’s response to the outbreak.

The upheaval of Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the government just as the United Kingdom, now in its third week of virtual lockdown, enters what scientists say will be the most deadly phase of the pandemic which has already killed 5,373 people in the country.

A general view of police officers outside the St Thomas’ Hospital after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to intensive care while his coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms worsened and has asked Secretary of State for Foreign affairs Dominic Raab to deputise, London, Britain, April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital across the River Thames from the House of Commons late on Sunday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and a cough, for more than 10 days.

But his condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was moved on Monday to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated, in case he needed to be put on a ventilator. He was still conscious, his office said.

“He is receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance,” Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.

“The prime minister has been stable overnight and remains in good spirits,” the spokesman said. “He has not required mechanical ventilation, or non-invasive respiratory support.”

But the absence of Johnson, the first leader of a major power to be hospitalised after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, has raised questions about who is truly in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy at such a crucial time.

While Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated, Johnson asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, 46, to deputise for him “where necessary”, Downing Street said..

Queen Elizabeth wished Johnson a “full and speedy recovery” and sent a message of support to his pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, and his family.

WHO LEADS?

Raab on Tuesday chaired the government’s COVID-19 emergency response meeting, though ministers refused to say who had ultimate control over the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons – a role held by the prime minister.

“There are well-developed protocols which are in place,” said Gove, who himself went into self-isolation on Tuesday after a family member displayed coronavirus symptoms.

British leaders do not traditionally publicise the results of their medical examinations as some U.S. presidents including Donald Trump have.

Raab, the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, takes the helm at a pivotal time. Government scientists see the death toll rising until at least April 12 and Britain must ultimately decide when to lift the lockdown.

Johnson’s move to intensive care added to the sense of upheaval that the coronavirus has wrought after its spread caused global panic, sowed chaos through financial markets and prompted the virtual shutdown of the world economy.

The United Kingdom is in a state of virtual lockdown, a situation due to be reviewed early next week, and some ministers have suggested it might need to be extended because some people were flouting the strict rules.

The pound dipped in Asian trading on news of Johnson’s intensive care treatment but then rallied in London trading. Against the dollar, sterling traded to a high of $1.2349, up 0.9% on the session.

CRITICISM

Even before coronavirus, Johnson had had a tumultuous year.

He won the top job in July 2019, renegotiated a Brexit deal with the European Union, fought a snap election in December which he won resoundingly and then led the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan 31 – promising to seal a Brexit trade deal by the end of this year.

The government has said it is not planning to seek an extension to that deadline in light of the epidemic.

Johnson has faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the coronavirus outbreak than other major European leaders, though he then imposed a lockdown as projections showed half a million people could die.

He tested positive for the virus on March 26.

After 10 days of isolation in an apartment at Downing Street, he was admitted to hospital. He was last seen in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday when he looked weary.

James Gill, a doctor and a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School, said the news of Johnson’s admission to intensive care was “worrying” but not completely out of line with other people suffering complications.

(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Michael Holden, Costas Pitas, Kylie MacLellan, Alistair Smout and Kate Kelland; Writing by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Sterling drops as PM Johnson sent to intensive care

By Karen Brettell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sterling dropped against the dollar and the euro on Monday after it was reported that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved into intensive care after his COVID-19 worsened.

“Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the Prime Minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital,” Downing Street said.

Sterling dropped against the greenback to $1.225, from around $1.230 before the report. The euro gained to 0.881 pence against to pound, from 0.877 pence before the news.

“If he is impaired from resuming his official duties, then it creates some complications but we have to wait and watch,” said Ilan Solot, an FX strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab is designated to take over leadership of the country if Johnson is unable to fulfil his role.

“It is unclear what the emergency succession plan would be for the prime minister. Markets hate uncertainty and this does not bode well for further steps in battling COVID-19 and for future Brexit trade negotiations,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

The drop in sterling came as the market more broadly reflected stronger risk appetite on optimism that the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States and Europe could be tapering.

The governors of New York and New Jersey said on Monday their states were showing tentative signs of a “flattening” of the coronavirus outbreak, but they warned against complacency as the nationwide death toll topped 10,000 and the number of cases reached 350,000.

European nations including hard-hit Italy and Spain have started looking ahead to easing coronavirus lockdowns after steady falls in fatality rates.

“Today’s currency moves are following the risk-on playbook closely,” analysts at Wells Fargo led by Erik Nelson said in a report on Monday.

The Australian dollar <AUD=> jumped 1.55% to $0.6088.

The dollar gained 0.64% against the Japanese currency <JPY=> to 109.14 yen.

Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to contain the coronavirus, while the government prepares a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.

But, “we think today’s JPY weakness has more to do with the strength in global equities than reports of a possible state of emergency declaration in Tokyo,” Wells Fargo said.

The euro dipped before euro zone finance ministers are expected to converge on Tuesday on three quick options to support the economy during the epidemic.

Officials have until April 9 to design a package that satisfies members with completely opposing views: those calling for joint debt issuance and those fiercely against it.

The single currency <EUR=> was last down 0.11% against the dollar at $1.0796.

(Additional reporting by Saikat Chatterjee and Dhara Ranasinghe in London; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)

Wanted: Weirdos and misfits – aide to UK’s Johnson is hiring

LONDON (Reuters) – The senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who plotted Brexit and steered his boss to last month’s election triumph, is on the lookout for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.

“We want to improve performance and make me much less important — and within a year largely redundant,” Dominic Cummings said in a post on his blog on Thursday.

“We do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed. This must change fast so we can properly serve the public.”

Cummings, who has made no secret of his disdain for much of the way Britain’s civil service operates, said he had been lucky to have worked with some fantastic officials in recent months.

“But there are also some profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions,” he said.

Cummings was one of the senior campaigners behind the Vote Leave victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum and was described by former Prime Minister John Major as “political anarchist.”

In his blog, Cummings said rapid progress could now be made on long-term problems thanks to the combination of policy upheaval after Brexit, an appetite for risk among some officials in the new government and Johnson’s big majority in parliament.

The government was looking to hire data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts and junior researchers as well as “weirdos and misfits with odd skills,” he said.

“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole,” Cummings said.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

UK PM May fights back tears as she is applauded out of parliament

British Prime Minister Theresa May takes questions in Parliament on her last day in office as Prime Minister in London, Britain July 24, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS?

LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers gave outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May a standing ovation as they applauded her out of the House of Commons chamber after her final, at times emotional, appearance as leader on Wednesday.

May, 62, appeared to be fighting back tears as she left, stopping to shake hands with the speaker, John Bercow, on her way out. She will officially hand over to her successor Boris Johnson later on Wednesday.

“Later today I will return to the backbenches and it will be my first time in 21 years so it is going to be quite a change,” May told lawmakers as her final weekly question session in parliament came to a close.

Praising the link between lawmakers and the constituents they represent as “the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy”, May’s voice quivered as she finished: “That duty to serve my constituents will remain my greatest motivation.”

The hour-long session, which her husband Philip watched from the public gallery, saw lawmakers from across the political divide pay tribute to May’s public service and sense of duty, despite voicing their disagreement with many of her policies.

Television footage from a news helicopter over parliament showed parliamentary staff lined up in a courtyard, clapping and taking photos on their phones as she walked to her car to return to her Downing Street residence for the final time.

She is expected to make a short speech in Downing Street before going to see Queen Elizabeth to formally stand down and recommend Johnson be asked to form a government.

May took over as prime minister in the aftermath of the 2016 vote to leave the European Union and is standing down just over three years later having failed to deliver Brexit, her divorce deal with the bloc rejected three times by a deeply divided parliament.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison)

UK worried by Iran role in Israel-Syria border confrontation – Johnson

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives in Downing Street in London, February 8, 2018.

LONDON (Reuters) – British foreign minister Boris Johnson said London was concerned at Iran’s role in a confrontation at Israel’s border with Syria.

“We are concerned at the Iranian actions, which detract from efforts to get a genuine peace process under way,” Johnson said in a statement on Monday.

“We encourage Russia to use its influence to press the regime and its backers to avoid provocative actions and to support de-escalation in pursuit of a broader political settlement,” he said.

In the most serious confrontation yet between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, anti-aircraft fire on Saturday downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions.

(Writing by William Schomberg; editing by John Stonestreet)

Stop meddling in foreign elections, UK’s Johnson tells Russian hosts

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attend a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia December 22,

By Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – British foreign minister Boris Johnson told his Russian counterpart on Friday there was “abundant evidence” of Moscow meddling in foreign elections, but said any Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s Brexit referendum had fallen flat.

On the first visit to Russia by a British foreign minister in five years, Johnson said he wanted to normalize UK-Russia relations, which were going through “a very difficult patch”.

But that didn’t mean pretending that Britain did not have serious concerns about Russia’s behavior, he said.

” … We can’t pretend that they (the problems) do not exist, and that we share a common perspective on the events in Ukraine, or in the Western Balkans or … on Russian activities in cyberspace,” said Johnson.

He also said Britain had a duty to speak up for the LGBT community in Chechnya. Two men from Chechnya told Reuters in June they had been tortured because they were gay. Chechen authorities deny the allegations.

Johnson’s visit comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia flatly denies, that Moscow has meddled in the politics of various European countries by backing cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.

BREXIT

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov challenged that narrative, however, saying Johnson himself had recently said he had no proof that Moscow had meddled in last year’s British referendum on leaving the European Union.

“Not successfully, not successfully, I think is the word,” Johnson — a leading advocate of Brexit — shot back, to which Lavrov replied: “He’s scared that if he doesn’t disagree with me, his reputation will be ruined at home.”

Johnson, who said there was abundant evidence of Russian election meddling in Germany, the United States and other countries, said it was Lavrov’s reputation he was worried about.

“I think it is very important … to recognize that Russian attempts to interfere in our elections or in our referendum, whatever they may have been, they’ve not been successful,” said Johnson.

Lavrov said he blamed Britain for the poor state of relations, complaining about “insulting and aggressive statements” from London. He also complained about Britain airing its differences with Moscow publicly rather than in private.

But although the two men spent much of their joint news conference exchanging barbs, both sounded upbeat when it came to trying to cooperate in narrow areas, such as in the U.N. Security Council, and on security arrangements for next year’s soccer World Cup in Russia.

Lavrov complained, however, that Britain was still not fully cooperating with Russia’s FSB security service.

Johnson had riled Russian officials before his visit by telling Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that Moscow was “closed, nasty, militaristic and anti-democratic”.

But when asked about the comment on Friday, he rowed back, saying he had been referring to the Soviet Union, not modern Russia.

Russian media has portrayed Johnson as anti-Russian. Johnson told reporters on Friday however that he was “a committed Russophile”.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)