Covid-19: British government criticised after Johnson tests positive
Administration accused of being careless after health minister also sidelined with virus
British prime minister Boris Johnson speaks about being infected with coronavirus He is on home quarantine but continues to work. Photograph: EPA/via Twitter
Health secretary Matt Hancock is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19. Photograph: UK Parliament/EPA
The British government has faced accusations of carelessness in failing to protect prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock from Covid-19 after they tested positive. The prime minister was tested for the virus after he showed mild symptoms, including a high temperature and cough, on Thursday.
“I’m working from home and self-isolating and that’s entirely the right thing to do. But, be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fight-back against coronavirus,” he said in a video message on Friday.
Mr Hancock said that he too was self-isolating after testing positive for the virus and chief medical officer Chris Whitty said later that he was following the same course after developing some symptoms.
The news that the three most senior figures in Britain’s struggle with the pandemic were suffering from the disease came as the death toll rose to 759. This is an increase of 181 since Thursday, the largest so far in a single day.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said the prime minister’s illness showed that the virus could affect anyone.
“I think the fact that both the prime minister and the health secretary have contracted the virus is a reminder that the virus does not discriminate. We are all at risk that is why it’s so important that we practice social distancing measures. Those are in place in government. Ministers are working remotely and from home, using video conferencing in order to make sure we can follow the strict advice that all of us should be following in order to protect the NHS [National Health Service],” he said during a press briefing in Downing Street.
Several senior figures in Downing Street, including chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, have reported symptoms of the virus in recent days. A number of ministers and dozens of MPs have self-isolated after experiencing a fever and a persistent cough, as have senior civil servants and political journalists who have attended daily briefings in Downing Street in recent weeks.
Prince Charles, who met Mr Johnson earlier this month, said this week that he was suffering from coronavirus but Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth remained in good health.
Neither Mr Gove nor chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, who have been working closely with the prime minister on the pandemic, have experienced symptoms or been tested. NHS chief executive Simon Stephens said testing of front-line healthcare workers would start next week before expanding to include social care services and others.
“We will be rolling out staff testing beginning of next week starting with critical care nurses and other staff in intensive care, emergency departments, ambulance services, GPs. And as testing volume continues to increase we want to expand that to a wider range of essential workers, including social care services, as well of course continuing with patients testing , which is so vital,” he said.
Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said the prime minister was able to receive a test immediately because of his “critical role” in the response to coronavirus. Mr Gove said the number of cases in Britain was now doubling every few days.
“Best scientific analysis now is that the rate of infection has been doubling every three to four days. These figures are a powerful reminder of the need for all of us to act. We need to slow the spread of the virus and strengthen the NHS’s ability to protect us all. Strict social distancing measures have been put in place to restrict the spread so fewer people will need hospital treatment at any one time,” he said.