Boris Johnson and U.K. health secretary test positive for coronavirus, chief medical officer has symptoms

LONDON, Jan. 8, 2020 (Xinhua) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend the Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament in London, Britain, Jan. 8, 2020. (Photo by Ray Tang/Xinhua/IANS)

LONDON (Rahnuma) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus, making him one of the first world leaders to become a patient himself during the global pandemic.

Just a few hours later, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock alerted the public that he had also tested positive for the virus. Soon after, England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said he too was experiencing symptoms of a covid-19 infection. He did not say if he had been tested.

All three men said their symptoms were mild so far. They confirmed they were self-isolating and working from home. But the one-two-three punch came as a shock, even as Britain’s infections have been doubling every three to four days, with 14,543 confirmed cases and 759 deaths recorded as of Friday.

Scientists have warned that many more will be striken before the virus peaks, and public health officials are scrambling to erect temporary hospitals in convention centers in London, Birmingham and Manchester to handle the coming wave.

At an evening news conference on Friday — which none of the three sick leaders attended, though they were fixtures at earlier briefings — government officials were asked if they were failing to take their own advice about social distancing — or had acted too slowly to protect themselves and the country.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove dodged the query, saying the high-profile infections “were a reminder that the virus does not discriminate.”

Britain lagged behind countries in Europe in embracing strict measures to slow the spread of the virus.

On March 3, just a few days after a visit to Kettering hospital, Johnson told a news conference, “I was at a hospital the other night where there were a few coronavirus patients. I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.” His spokesman later clarified he shook hands with staff, not patients.

British officials voiced concern about “behavioral fatigue” — that if they told people to stay home too soon, people would tire of the situation and rebel.

But the prime minister changed course on Monday to pursue what he has described as “drastic measures” to save lives and keep the National Health Service from being overwhelmed.

Britain is now on a kind of soft lockdown, with citizens urged to work from home, remain indoors and venture out only to buy food and medicine or exercise once a day. All pubs, restaurants, gyms and most shops have shuttered. Police are issuing warnings to those who disobey the measures by gathering in groups larger than family size.

Johnson was last seen in public on Thursday evening in front of 10 Downing Street, where he joined a national round of applause for health-care workers.


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