Isabel Hardman

Boris Johnson ‘stable’ and not on a ventilator, No. 10 says

Boris Johnson ‘stable’ and not on a ventilator, No. 10 says
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Boris Johnson has been stable overnight and is breathing without mechanical assistance, his official spokesman said this afternoon. He has received standard oxygen treatment and 'remains in good spirits'. He does not have pneumonia.

There have been questions over whether Downing Street had been overly reticent about quite how unwell the Prime Minister has been, and whether it was right that the full picture wasn't on offer. The spokesman insisted that No. 10 has been 'fully frank' about the Prime Minister's condition throughout and that the change yesterday from 'in hospital as a precaution' to Johnson being moved to intensive care was because his symptoms worsened yesterday afternoon.

Why is it important that we know the details of the Prime Minister's condition? Some might argue that questions about what he's capable of are irrelevant, but given he was said to be working on his red box yesterday afternoon, and given the line is that Dominic Raab has assumed the Prime Minister's responsibilities 'where appropriate', it is important to understand where the division lies: will Raab be deputising on issues beyond the coronavirus pandemic, for instance? Is Johnson communicating with Raab and officials at all while in ICU? The spokesman suggested not, saying repeatedly in response to questions about whether he was using a phone or speaking to others that 'he's in intensive care’.

Raab will not be attending weekly audiences with the Queen while the Prime Minister is absent. We were also given details of who would take over from the Foreign Secretary if he became unwell: the Chancellor of the Exchequer is next in line.

One decision that Raab may have to announce later this week is whether the government plans to extend the current lockdown period beyond the initial three weeks that Johnson announced. The spokesman said 'it remains the intention' to review the efficacy and necessity of the current restrictions at the end of the three weeks. He said it was 'too soon to be speculating' on whether schools could re-open soon, following a UCL study which suggested school closures were only having a minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

The government is also very cagey about what sort of exit strategy it has for when the lockdown is no longer necessary. The line, repeated from yesterday, is that ministers are 'relentlessly' focused on the current priority of stopping the spread of the virus and that it is important to keep the public focused on the current need to stay at home and avoid other people. This does make sense on one level: if people feel the lockdown is nearing its end, they may start to flout government instructions in anticipation of that. But it is hard for businesses to plan what sort of shape they will be in if they have no idea when they will be permitted to resume their activities, or whether there will be phases to the lifting of restrictions for certain groups and certain sectors. Which is why this question is far more important then merely satisfying the personal desire for things to 'get back to normal', whatever normal is going to look like after this.