UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his diagnosis in a video posted on social media, in which he said he would continue to lead the UK government’s efforts from self-isolation in an apartment in Downing Street.
Minutes later, his secretary of state for health, Matt Hancock, also said he had the virus and would work from home while England’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, has shown symptoms.
The extraordinary developments raised the question of how many officials leading the UK’s response to coronavirus had themselves been exposed to it.
Downing Street, the center of power in the UK, is a maze of cramped offices and narrow corridors, making it almost impossible for everyone working there to practice the government’s own advice on social distancing.
On Thursday evening, after displaying symptoms but before learning the result of his test, Johnson appeared outside 10 Downing Street with his chief finance minister, Rishi Sunak, taking part in a national moment of appreciation for the UK’s health service workers. A Downing Street spokesperson said the pair were careful to remain at a safe distance.
Johnson was a late convert to the strict measures now in place in the UK. Only a few weeks ago, he boasted of shaking the hands of coronavirus patients in hospital, and the UK faced criticism for a more cautious approach to the restrictive measures adopted by its European neighbors.
“Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus,” Johnson said in his Friday Twitter post. “I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this.”
Another 181 people died with the virus in the UK in the paat 24 hours figures showed taking the total number of UK deaths to 759, with 14,543 confirmed cases.
They announced plans to begin a large-scale testing programme of health service staff, starting with critical care teams. It will later be expanded to cover social care staff too.
It follows mounting criticism from NHS staff over a lack of testing as currently, only seriously-ill patients in hospital are being tested.
Testing will be carried out on staff showing possible symptoms of the virus or staff who live with people who have symptoms – not for all frontline workers as a matter of course.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said the announcement was “long overdue” and the lack of testing so far had been “incredibly frustrating”.
“For every healthy member of staff at home self-isolating needlessly when they do not have the virus, the NHS is short of someone who could be providing vital care to patients on the frontline,” BMA chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said.
Sources: CNN & BBC News.