U.K. sees dead­li­est day as PM back on his feet

‘STAY AT HOME’

Vancouver Sun - - PAN­DEMIC - MICHAEL HOLDEN AND ANDY BRUCE

LON­DON • Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son was back on his feet in his re­cov­ery from COVID-19 on Fri­day as Bri­tain recorded its dead­li­est day yet in the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, with 980 more deaths tak­ing the coun­try’s toll to nearly 9,000.

The rise in deaths, which even ex­ceeded the dead­li­est day re­ported so far in Italy, the coun­try worst hit by the virus, comes as the gov­ern­ment told Bri­tons to obey a lock­down and re­sist go­ing out in the spring sunshine over Easter.

“How­ever warm the weather, how­ever tempt­ing your lo­cal beach or park, we need ev­ery­one to stay at home be­cause in hos­pi­tals across the coun­try NHS staff are bat­tling day and night to keep des­per­ately sick peo­ple breath­ing,” health min­is­ter Matt Han­cock told a news con­fer­ence.

The prime min­is­ter emerged from three nights of in­ten­sive care on Thurs­day af­ter en­ter­ing hos­pi­tal on Sun­day as his symp­toms of COVID-19 per­sisted.

STAFF ARE BAT­TLING DAY AND NIGHT TO KEEP DES­PER­ATELY SICK PEO­PLE BREATH­ING.

John­son, 55, who needed oxy­gen sup­port, was now able to take short walks be­tween pe­ri­ods of rest, as part of the his re­cov­ery, which his of­fice said was at an early stage.

“I was told he was wav­ing his thanks to all of the nurses and doc­tors he saw as he was moved from the in­ten­sive care unit back to the ward,” his spokesman said. “The hos­pi­tal said that he was in ex­tremely good spir­its last night.”

John­son was the first world leader to be hos­pi­tal­ized with the coro­n­avirus, forc­ing him to hand con­trol to for­eign min­is­ter Do­minic Raab just as Bri­tain’s coro­n­avirus out­break wors­ened dras­ti­cally.

While John­son’s con­di­tion was im­prov­ing, it was un­clear how long he would be in­ca­pac­i­tated.

“He must rest up,” his fa­ther, Stan­ley John­son, told BBC ra­dio. “You can­not walk away from this and go straight back to Down­ing Street and pick up the reins with­out a pe­riod of read­just­ment.”

Han­cock said Raab had done an “ex­cel­lent job” in John­son’s stead. “The good news is that the gov­ern­ment in his ab­sence has been func­tion­ing very ef­fi­ciently, very ef­fec­tively,” he said.

In John­son’s ab­sence, min­is­ters’ top pri­or­ity is con­sid­er­ing if and when it can end the lock­down which has so far been in place for three weeks.

The four-day Easter break be­gan on Fri­day with bright sunshine, and author­i­ties warned they were on the look­out for those break­ing a ban on so­cial gath­er­ings or ven­tur­ing out with­out good rea­son.

Of­fi­cials say the mea­sures are vi­tal to curb­ing the spread of the virus and must re­main in place un­til the num­ber of new hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions and in­fec­tions has peaked.

“We don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion yet to make any changes to the so­cial dis­tanc­ing ar­range­ments,” Han­cock said.

The gov­ern­ment says it will have a bet­ter idea by next week of whether the lock­down was prov­ing suc­cess­ful, with health of­fi­cials say­ing the in­di­ca­tions were pos­i­tive.

How­ever, the death rate is still ex­pected to con­tinue to rise for sev­eral days. Han­cock said the death toll had reached 8,958 peo­ple on April 9 — the fifth high­est in the world.

One se­nior min­is­ter was un­der pres­sure on Fri­day him­self for not ad­her­ing to the lock­down af­ter news­pa­pers said he trav­elled to a sec­ond home out­side Lon­don and vis­ited his par­ents.

“For clar­ity — my par­ents asked me to de­liver some es­sen­tials — in­clud­ing medicines,” Hous­ing Min­is­ter Robert Jen­rick tweeted in his de­fence, adding that he had left Lon­don to re­turn to his fam­ily home.

“We are con­fi­dent that he com­plied with the so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules,” John­son’s spokesman said.

The gov­ern­ment has also faced crit­i­cism over its re­sponse to the out­break, from a lack of test­ing for the virus, to fail­ing to pro­vide enough per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment to front line health-care staff.

Han­cock said new test­ing cen­tres had been opened to al­low all front line staff to be tested, while a “Her­culean” ef­fort was un­der­way to en­sure they re­ceived PPE.

GLYN KIRK/AFP VIA GETTY IM­AGES

As the U.K. coro­n­avirus death toll nears 9,000, peo­ple are be­ing urged to stay away from beaches and parks.

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