Boris Johnson ‘continues to improve’ as UK braces for more virus deaths

British death toll approaches 8,000; doctors continue to report inadequate personal protective equipment

An image of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and quotes from her historic television broadcast commenting on the coronavirus pandemic are displayed on a big screen behind the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus in London, April 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
An image of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and quotes from her historic television broadcast commenting on the coronavirus pandemic are displayed on a big screen behind the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus in London, April 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Britons braced Thursday for several more weeks in lockdown as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained stable in a London hospital after three nights in intensive care for treatment for his coronavirus infection.

Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said the prime minister “had a good night and continues to improve” at St. Thomas’ Hospital.

On Wednesday evening the government said Johnson, 55, was making “steady progress” and sitting up in bed. He has been receiving oxygen without being placed on a ventilator since his COVID-19 symptoms worsened and was admitted to an ICU.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Johnson while the prime minister is ill, will chair a meeting of the government’s COBRA crisis committee to discuss whether to extend restrictions on public activity and people’s movements imposed March 23 to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The original restrictions were for three weeks, a period that ends Monday. But there is little prospect of the government’s stay-at-home order and business closures being lifted. Restrictions could be strengthened if people flock to parks and outdoor spaces over what is forecast to be a warm, sunny Easter weekend.

In this file photo British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he gives a press conference about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no prospect of the lockdown being “lifted immediately or even imminently.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said “the curve [of new cases] is beginning to flatten.

“This is the moment that we need to stick to the path we’ve chosen,” he told Sky News. “The British people have really come behind this. We shouldn’t be giving up this Easter weekend, that is the number one thing.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and in some cases death.

Nearly 8,000 people with the coronavirus have died in British hospitals, according to government figures. While the number of new confirmed cases has begun to plateau, deaths continue to rise and are approaching the peaks seen in Italy and Spain, the two countries with the greatest number of fatalities.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is taking charge of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care arrives at 10 Downing street in London, April 9, 2020. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

On Thursday, the UK reported at least 887 new deaths exclusive of Northern Ireland, following a record 938 new deaths on Wednesday, the country’s biggest increase to date. Italy recorded a high of 969 deaths on March 27 and Spain 950 deaths on April 2.

The figures may not be directly comparable, however. Not all the UK deaths reported each day occurred in the preceding 24 hours, and the total only includes deaths in hospitals.

Johnson’s government was slower than those in some European countries to impose restrictions on daily life in response to the pandemic, leading his critics to accuse him of complacency. Britain also had one of the lowest numbers of hospital beds per capita in Western Europe before the pandemic, with only about 5,000 intensive-care beds nationwide.

That number has been increased vastly in the past few weeks, both by converting other areas of hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients and by building temporary facilities, including a 4,000-bed hospital at London’s Excel conference center.

So far, hospitals have been stretched but not overwhelmed, But some medics say they are struggling and still have not received adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“We’re still, by and large, wearing the same equipment that we were a few weeks ago,” said Dr. Nishant Joshi, an accident and emergency doctor who works in a hospital north of London.

“We’re getting a higher volume of patients, and they are more unwell and they’re probably more contagious,” he said.

“So it’s fair to assume that the PPE that we were kind of making do with, it was a hit and hope situation, a few weeks ago. It’s fair to say that it’s no longer adequate.”

Slack, the prime minister’s spokesman, said “we are confident that enough supply is now reaching the front line” and that the government was working urgently to sort out any distribution problems with protective equipment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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