Johnson was taken Sunday evening to the National Health Service hospital, where he spent a “comfortable night” in the National Health Service hospital and “is in good spirits,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is chairing emergency meetings and briefing the press in Johnson’s absence.
The prime minister tweeted Tuesday, “Last night, on the advice of my doctor, I went into hospital for some routine tests as I’m still experiencing coronavirus symptoms.” He thanked the “brilliant NHS staff taking care of me and others in this difficult time.”
Johnson’s staff sought to put the best spin on the fact that the 55-year-old leader is not well. They stressed that the prime minister continues to lead the government, communicate with his ministers, receive his red dispatch box of documents and work from his bed.
There were, however, worries that Johnson was getting not getting better. Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, conducted via teleconference, was postponed, as a government minister cautioned that Johnson might spend more nights in the hospital.
The British leader tested positive for the virus 12 days ago. He immediately went into self-isolation in his apartment at Downing Street, getting his food brought to the door on a tray, his aides said.
Johnson completed the recommended seven days of isolation, then extended his quarantine for three more days, and then on the advice of his doctor checked into the hospital Sunday evening, around the time that Queen Elizabeth II was making an extraordinary address to the country.
She spoke of “an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: A disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.”
Johnson, one of the first world leaders to be diagnosed with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was last seen by the public in a short video posted Friday on his Twitter feed, urging Britons to remain indoors except to go shopping, visit the doctor or exercise. In the clips, he looked ragged, with puffy eyes and pale skin.
The rules for who takes over if a leader becomes incapacitated are not as straightforward in Britain as in the United States, where the vice president would assume the duties.
In Britain’s parliamentary system, the prime minister names their designate, and 10 Downing Street has confirmed reports that person is Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary. But analysts said that could be influenced by wider cabinet thinking.
“It isn’t as cut and dry and black and white as it is in the U.S.,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “Were somebody to be suddenly struck down and there were no named interim in place, it would ultimately be up to the cabinet to decide. . . . The prime minister is not the chief executive the way the president is.”
Bale said it wasn’t surprising that Johnson wasn’t pushing to step aside. “It’s very difficult for prime ministers to relinquish their power, emotionally speaking. And I would have thought that Boris Johnson would, like many other members of his cabinet, be acutely aware of Dominic Raab’s limitations as a public communicator. I also think if you think of who is the de facto deputy prime minister most people would point to Michael Gove rather than Dominic Raab.” Gove is another senior cabinet minister.
His allies have publicly rallied behind Johnson.
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, told the BBC on Monday that Johnson was “still very much in charge,” though he acknowledged the prime minister may require more nights in the hospital.
Johnson, Jenrick said, has been “working extremely hard leading the government and being constantly updated — that’s going to continue.”
“I’m sure this is very frustrating for him, for somebody like Boris who wants to be hands on running the government from the front,” Jenrick said. “But nonetheless, he’s still very much in charge of the government.”
Others have questioned whether he should hand over the reins for the time being.
Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, told the BBC that “I think, in the end, if he’s not well, he will have to reflect on this, because the job’s tough at the best of times, and it’s doubly tough now.”
George Osborne, editor of the Evening Standard newspaper and a former finance minister, tweeted, “Boris wouldn’t be in hospital unless it was serious.”