After Boris Johnson's admission to hospital, Dominic Raab tried to use Monday's daily press conference to reassure the public that the Prime Minister was still firmly in charge:
“'I can tell you that the PM had a comfortable night in hospital, and he’s in good spirits. He’s still in hospital under observation. He is being given regular updates on developments, and he continues to lead the government. I can reassure the British people that the Government remains united in a single overriding priority, which is to defeat the coronavirus and see this nation through the challenge ahead.'
However, the message was complicated by the Q and A. Raab – who as first secretary of state is the de facto deputy – was chairing the morning meeting in the Prime Minister's place, and was asked twice when the last time he spoke to Johnson was. After initially saying the weekend, Raab went on to clarify that it had been on Saturday: 'I spoke to the PM on Saturday, was the last time I spoke to him in person.'
Raab's answer was phrased in such a way that's it's possible they are communicating in some other way. However, the fact Raab didn't suggest they were, is only going to increase speculation about how sustainable it is to have the Prime Minister supposedly running the country from his hospital bed. Already critics are suggesting this is evidence that Johnson is not really in charge – while there are Tory MPs pushing for Johnson to simply sign off for a few days to focus on his recovery.
The unanswerable question of the press conference was on the government's exit strategy out of the lockdown. Raab suggested that this was not the current priority – it was important to focus on social distancing ahead of a peak of infections. To have a 'serious discussion' prior to the peak, he said would be a 'mistake'. There is a concern in government is that by talking about an exit strategy people will relax their social distancing as there will be an end in sight. However, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty did give an indication of the factors that will decide when the lockdown ends, which will go beyond simply the number of coronavirus infections. He said this would have to weighed up with the effect on other NHS patients and the socioeconomic impact of lockdown.