Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday evening released a brief statement that appeared to underline that his medical situation was far worse than ministers and Downing Street aides had conveyed.
“I can’t thank them enough, I owe them my life,” Johnson said in a statement thanking staff at Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) after his second full day out of intensive care at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital.
Johnson was admitted to the hospital last Sunday for a persistent cough and high temperature 10 days after self-isolating with the novel coronavirus, in what was initially announced as a “precautionary measure.”
A day later he was transferred to the intensive care unit as his condition deteriorated, with questions asked as to whether the seriousness of the situation had been downplayed to the British public.
The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported Johnson’s friends had revealed he came close to death while in intensive care and said he owed his life to the hospital’s medical team, raising a second round of questions about whether the gravity of the situation had not been made clear.
“A source said Mr Johnson was conscious when he arrived at the hospital [on Sunday, March 5], but ‘very, very unwell’,” the Mail reported. “He was put on oxygen via a tube through his nose within ten minutes of arrival.”
“His condition worsened throughout Sunday evening and Monday,” the paper said, and by later Monday “he was too unwell to even look at his phone or respond to texts and WhatsApp messages.”
On Monday evening, his fiancee Carrie Symonds “was told that Mr Johnson was not improving and the likelihood of him having to be put on a ventilator in intensive care was quickly growing… Anguished, yet prevented from being by his bed, Ms Symonds wrote her husband-to-be a love letter, attaching a scan of their unborn child.”
Johnson, said the Mail, “fought for his life on Monday night.” He had “a better night than expected and his temperature began to fall on Tuesday morning.”
The Guardian also intimated late Saturday that Johnson had been “suddenly in danger of losing his life.” It quoted the former Conservative MP Paul Goodman saying of Johnson: “He is literally larger than life so when you hear he is dangerously ill it feels like a blow to life itself.”
The Conservative leader left the unit Thursday evening in “extremely good spirits” and waving at staff “in gratitude,” his spokesman has said.
Officials said Saturday he was making “very good progress” in his recovery, as the country’s deaths toll from the disease approached the grim milestone of 10,000.
It remains unclear when Johnson might be discharged from the hospital and how quickly he would return to work once out. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been deputizing for him.
The prime minister’s spokesman stressed Friday that his recovery was “at an early stage” and he would act only “on the advice of his medical team.”
The Sun tabloid also reported that Johnson’s spirits had been lifted this week by Symonds, who sent him “love letters” and scans of their unborn child.
Symonds, who has also suffered from coronavirus symptoms in recent weeks, and the British leader have reportedly not seen each other for nearly a month. Their baby is due this summer.
News of Johnson’s improvement contrasted with the latest official statistics showing Britain recorded nearly 1,000 daily COVID-19 deaths for the second consecutive day — one of the worst rates globally.
The health ministry announced another 917 coronavirus hospital patients had died in the latest 24-hour period, down from the toll on Friday but still the country’s second highest yet. An 11-year-old was among the victims, according to the NHS.
It brings the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in British hospitals to 9,875, while the number of confirmed cases in the country climbed by 5,234 to 78,991.
That is thought to reflect only a fraction of the actual number of people infected because not everyone has been tested for the virus.
Despite the sobering statistics, Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said there was a “leveling off” in the number of new cases and “the first signs of a plateauing of people who unfortunately need hospitalization.”
He credited a nationwide lockdown introduced on March 23 for halting the virus’ spread, but added the mortality rate would be “the very final thing” to decrease.
“We are confident that if everybody follows the instructions… then that will begin to translate in the next weeks into a reduction in the daily deaths,” Powis said.
“I’m afraid this year it has to be for all of us a stay-at-home Easter.”
Queen Elizabeth II echoed that in what is believed to be her first pre-recorded Easter address, released by Buckingham Palace on Saturday evening.
“By keeping apart we keep others safe,” the 93-year-old monarch said. “We know that coronavirus will not overcome us.”
Her resolute comments came a week after a rare televised address to the nation in which she told people to unite to beat COVID-19.