UK PM Johnson ‘clinically stable’ in intensive care battling COVID-19

UK PM Johnson ‘clinically stable’ in intensive care battling COVID-19
By Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “clinically stable” in intensive care on Wednesday and responding to treatment for COVID-19 complications, amid questions about how key coronavirus crisis decisions would be made in his absence.

Johnson, who tested positive nearly two weeks ago, was admitted to St Thomas’ hospital on Sunday evening with a persistent high temperature and cough but his condition deteriorated and he was rushed into an intensive care unit.

The 55-year-old British leader has received oxygen support but was not put on a ventilator and his designated deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said he would soon be back at the helm as the world faces one of its gravest public health crisis in a century.

Downing Street said that Johnson was not working, but was able to contact people if needed.

“The prime minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment. He is in good spirits,” Johnson’s spokesman said, similar to what Downing Street has been saying over the past two days.

As Johnson battled the novel coronavirus in hospital, the United Kingdom was entering what scientists said was the deadliest phase of the outbreak and grappling with the question of when to lift the lockdown.

Inside the government, ministers were debating how long the world’s fifth-largest economy could afford to be shut down, and the long-term implications of one of the most stringent set of emergency controls in peacetime history.

The United Kingdom’s total hospital deaths from COVID-19 rose by a record 786 to 6,159 as of 1600 GMT on April 6, the latest publicly available death toll, though just 213,181 people out of the population of around 68 million have been tested.

Britain was in no position to lift the shutdown as the peak of the outbreak was still over a week away, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

“We are nowhere near lifting the lockdown,” Khan said.

ACTING PM RAAB?

Johnson was breathing without any assistance and had not required respiratory support, said Raab, who said the prime minister, whom he described as “a fighter”, remained in charge.

There are few precedents in British history of a prime minister being incapacitated at a time of major crisis, though Winston Churchill suffered a stroke while in office in 1953 and Tony Blair twice underwent heart treatment in the 2000s.

Johnson has delegated some authority to Raab, who was appointed foreign minister less than a year ago, though any major decisions – such as when to lift the lockdown – would in effect need the blessing of Johnson’s cabinet.

Britain’s uncodified constitution – an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents – offers no clear, formal “Plan B”. In essence, it is the prime minister’s call and, if he is incapacitated, then up to cabinet to decide.

Raab said ministers had “very clear directions, very clear instructions” from Johnson but it was not clear what would happen if crucial decisions needed to be made which strayed from the approved plan.

Michael Heseltine, who served as deputy prime minister to John Major in the 1990s, told the Telegraph Raab’s position needed to be clarified.

Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said most major decisions over the coronavirus strategy had been taken with the important exception of whether or not to ease the lockdown, a call that will need to be made in the next week or soon after.

“That is not just a medical judgement. It has to be a balance between the medical considerations and the consequences of leaving the whole economy shut down,” Rifkind told BBC TV.

While such a decision would be made by cabinet even if Johnson were not unwell, he said Britain’s prime minister had authority and sway as the “primus inter pares” – Latin for “first among equals” – others did not.

“He very often can steer the direction in a particular way. Dominic Raab doesn’t have the authority nor would he claim it,” Rifkind said.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Costas Pitas, Sarah Young, and David Milliken; writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Nick Macfie)

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)

Near-record ‘dead zone’ forecast off U.S. Gulf coast, threatening fish

FILE PHOTO: The rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico crash at the shoreline of the Treasure Island community of West Galveston Island, Texas March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A near record-sized “dead zone” of oxygen-starved water could form in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, threatening its huge stocks of marine life, researchers said.

The area could spread over 8,700 square miles (22,500 square km), scientists at Louisiana State University said on Monday – about the size of the state of Massachusetts, and five times the average.

Experts blamed unusually high rainfall across the U.S. Midwest this Spring that washed farm fertilizers along streams and rivers through the Mississippi River Basin out into the Gulf.

The nutrients in the fertilizers feed algae that die, decompose and deplete the water of oxygen, the Louisiana scientists said.

“When the oxygen is below two parts per million, any shrimp, crabs, and fish that can swim away, will swim away,” Louisiana State University ocean ecologist Nancy Rabalais told the National Geographic magazine.

“The animals in the sediment [that can’t swim away] can be close to annihilated.”

The problem might get even worse if any more significant tropical storms wash out more farm-fed nutrients, the scientists said.

Sewage run off, caused by the spring floods, also add to the problem, National Geographic reported.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a slightly smaller 7,829 square-mile spread. The record was 8,776 square miles set in 2017.

“A major factor contributing to the large dead zone this year is the abnormally high amount of spring rainfall in many parts of the Mississippi River watershed,” the agency said in its annual “dead zone” forecast.

A solution would be to keep fertilizer and sewage run-off from getting into the rivers, NOAA said.

A Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force has been monitoring the problem and has set goals to reduce run-off.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Thai diver dies as rescue teams ponder how to bring out trapped boys

Rescuers carry supplies into the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 5, 2018. Video taken July 5, 2018. Mandatory credit RUAMKATANYU FOUNDATION/Handout via Reuters TV

By Panu Wongcha-um and John Geddie

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – A former Thai navy diver died working to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped inside a flooded cave, highlighting the risks for rescue teams trying to find a safe way to bring the group out after 13 days underground.

Dwindling oxygen levels in the cave complex and weather forecasts predicting more heavy rain added to the pressure on authorities to work out a rescue plan.

Members of the media attend a news conference about the death of a Thai rescue diver after he fell unconscious during part of an operation, in front of the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Members of the media attend a news conference about the death of a Thai rescue diver after he fell unconscious during part of an operation, in front of the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Samarn Poonan, 38, a former member of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit, died on Thursday night as he worked underwater in the cave complex, laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, the SEAL commander said.

“We won’t let his life be in vain. We will carry on,” Admiral Arpakorn Yuukongkaew told reporters on Friday.

Samarn was working with a partner placing oxygen tanks in a section of the cave. As they returned, Samarn fell unconscious about 1.5 kms from the cave entrance.

“Once his mission was over he dove back, but in the middle of their return his buddy found Samarn unconscious in the water and tried to pump his heart, but he could not save his life,” the SEAL unit said in a statement.

The diver’s death also highlighted the risks for the boys, who have no scuba diving experience, if authorities decide they should attempt to swim out of the flooded cave.

“A navy SEAL just passed away last night. How about a 12-year-old boy that will have to pass through?” said Rafael Aroush, an Israeli living in Thailand and volunteer at the site.

“There will be rain and many things could go wrong. I don’t want to say it, but it could be a catastrophe,” he said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed his condolences over Samarn’s death but it would not deter the rescue teams, a spokesman said.

“Authorities have not lost courage because of this,” Thassada Thangkachan told reporters in Bangkok.

Officials warned on Friday that oxygen levels inside the cave have fallen and rescuers were racing to get more oxygen pipes into the cave. They have been working on a five km (three miles) “oxygen pipeline” to prepare for the group’s extraction.

Rescuers, including international teams, are pondering other ways to bring the group out before heavy rains hit the country’s north next week which could further hamper the rescue operation.

In a rare piece of good news, rescuers on Friday cleared enough water from inside the cave to be able to wade to one of the cave’s chambers located about 1.7 kms from the boys’ location without diving.

DEEP WATER

Rescue alternatives include teaching the boys to dive and then swim out, a highly risky venture, remaining in the cave for months until the wet season ends and flood waters recede, or drilling a shaft into the cave from the forest above.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their assistant coach were found inside the Tham Luang cave in northern Chiang Rai province on Monday, after nine days underground. They went missing after setting out to explore the cave on June 23.

Rescuers have been slowed by logistical issues including high water levels inside the cave and narrow, flooded passages which would require the boys to dive alone.

The navy is teaching the boys the basics of diving, with a view to guiding them out through flood waters.

But getting them out won’t be easy.

The boys will have to be taught how to use scuba diving gear and how to navigate a cave that has frustrated even the most expert divers. Some of the boys cannot swim.

“Regarding the plan for the 13 to swim or dive, there is only one critical point which is risky: It is where every boy has to dive alone,” Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said on Thursday.

Rescuers are considering other options including keeping the 13 inside the cave until the flood waters recede at the end of the rainy season in about four months.

If the weather is on their side and enough water can be pumped out of the cave, the boys could get out the same way they got in, on foot, perhaps with some swimming.

Another option would be to find an alternative way into their chamber, such as drilling a shaft into the cave from the forested mountain above.

(Additional reporting by John Geddie and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in CHIANG RAI, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Pracha Hariraksapitak and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)

China tests self-sustaining space station in Beijing

A volunteer checks on plants inside a simulated space cabin in which he temporarily lives with others as a part of the scientistic Lunar Palace 365 Project, at Beihang University in Beijing, China

By Natalie Thomas

BEIJING (Reuters) – Sealed behind the steel doors of two bunkers in a Beijing suburb, university students are trying to find out how it feels to live in a space station on another planet, recycling everything from plant cuttings to urine.

They are part of a project aimed at creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that provides everything humans need to survive.

Four students from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics entered the Lunar Palace-1 on Sunday with the aim of living self-sufficiently for 200 days.

A volunteer answers reporters' questions from inside a simulated space cabin in which she temporarily lives with others as a part of the scientistic Lunar Palace 365 Project, at Beihang University in Beijing, China

A volunteer answers reporters’ questions from inside a simulated space cabin in which she temporarily lives with others as a part of the scientistic Lunar Palace 365 Project, at Beihang University in Beijing, China July 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

They say they are happy to act as human guinea-pigs if it means getting closer to their dream of becoming astronauts.

“I’ll get so much out of this,” Liu Guanghui, a PhD student, who entered the bunker on Sunday, said. “It’s truly a different life experience.”

President Xi Jinping wants China to become a global power in space exploration, with plans to send the first probe to the dark side of the moon by 2018 and to put astronauts on the moon by 2036. The Lunar Palace 365 experiment may allow them to stay there for extended periods.

For Liu Hong, a professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the project’s principal architect, said everything needed for human survival had been carefully calculated.

“We’ve designed it so the oxygen (produced by plants at the station) is exactly enough to satisfy the humans, the animals, and the organisms that break down the waste materials,” she said.

But satisfying physical needs is only one part of the experiment, Liu said. Charting the mental impact of confinement in a small space for such a long time is equally crucial.

“They can become a bit depressed,” Liu said. “If you spend a long time in this type of environment it can create some psychological problems.”

A member of staff is seen in front of screens showing inside of a simulated space cabin in which volunteers temporarily live as a part of the scientistic Lunar Palace 365 Project, at Beihang University in Beijing, China

A member of staff is seen in front of screens showing inside of a simulated space cabin in which volunteers temporarily live as a part of the scientistic Lunar Palace 365 Project, at Beihang University in Beijing, China July 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Liu Hui, a student leader who participated an initial 60-day experiment at Lunar Palace-1 that finished on Sunday, said that she sometimes “felt a bit low” after a day’s work.

The project’s support team has found mapping out a specific set of daily tasks for the students is one way that helps them to remain happy.

But the 200-day group will also be tested to see how they react to living a for period of time without sunlight. The project’s team declined to elaborate.

“We did this experiment with animals… so we want to see how much impact it will have on people,” Liu, the professor, said.

 

(Reporting By Natalie Thomas. Editing by Jane Merriman)