LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson left the hospital on Sunday and thanked staff for saving his life from COVID-19, but his government was forced to maintain its response to the coronavirus outbreak when the national death toll exceeded 10,000.
The grim milestone came after Britain reported two consecutive days in hospital deaths increased by more than 900. The number of deaths on Friday 980 surpassed the highest daily total recorded in Italy, Europe’s hardest hit country so far.
Reflecting the gravity of the state of emergency, Queen Elizabeth issued the first Easter message in her government for 68 years. “Coronavirus will not defeat us,” the 93-year-old king said in his second address to the country in a week.
Johnson, 55, was taken to St Thomas’s Hospital in London on April 5. He was transferred to intensive care the following day and remained there until April 9.
“I am leaving the hospital today after a week where the NHS has saved my life, there is no question,” Johnson said in a five-minute video message posted on Twitter from 10 Downing Street, referring to the government-run National Health Service.
He gave the name and thanked the nurse who had cared for him, with special mention to the two of them, Jenny from New Zealand and Luis from Portugal, who he said had been standing by his bedside for 48 hours “when things were going well”.
“The reason in the end my body starts getting enough oxygen is because every second of the night they watch and they think and they care and intervene what I need,” he said.
Johnson wore a jacket and tie and spoke in a cheerful manner. With a distinctive style, he makes jokes, thanking the doctors who treated him, “some of them for some reason called Nick”.
He will continue his recovery at Checkers, the official residence of the prime minister of northwest London, his office said. Health Minister Matt Hancock said there was no suggestion when he would return to work and that would be a clinical decision.
“VERY DARK TIMES”
A Reuters photographer saw Johnson and his pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds, 32, who also suffered from COVID-19 symptoms, be evicted from Downing Street with their dogs.
“There were times when it was very dark last week. “My heart touches everyone in the same situation, worried sick about their loved ones,” Symonds said on Twitter. “Today I feel very lucky.”
While Johnson has gone out of action, his ministers have come under pressure to explain why the number of people who have died from COVID-19 is increasing so fast.
The death rate at hospitals across the UK stood at 10,612 at 1600 GMT on Saturday, increasing by 737 for 24 hours, official figures showed on Sunday.
That’s lower than the daily increases of 980 and 917 reported on Friday and Saturday. At the end of the previous week, the number had declined, which could reflect a delay in registering deaths.
“Britain is likely to be one of the worst affected countries if it is not the country worst affected in Europe,” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust health foundation and member of the scientific panel advising the government, told the BBC.
Asked to comment on Farrar’s prediction during the government’s daily press conference, Hancock did not dispute it.
“The future of this virus is unknown because it depends on the behavior of millions of people,” he said.
THE MINISTER BELOW THE PRESSURE
In his video message, Johnson thanked the public for following the social restrictions that had existed since March 23 and convinced them that their efforts were bearing fruit.
“I want you to know that this Easter Sunday I believe that your efforts are worth it, and every day prove their value,” he said.
However, ministers face a barrage of questions about whether the government is too slow to impose national closure.
“Different countries have different cycles in terms of where they are in terms of spreading this pandemic,” Business Minister Alok Sharma told Sky News earlier in answering the question.
At Sunday’s briefing, Hancock came under pressure to explain ongoing problems such as lack of personal protective equipment for hospitals and nursing home staff, and low levels of corona virus testing compared to several European countries.
He said the NHS had not been overwhelmed, unlike health services from several other countries, and that currently there were nearly 3,000 critical care backup beds.
Public Health England’s medical director, Yvonne Doyle, said there were signs that the number of hospital admissions in London could be stable, but that the position was still getting worse in parts of northern England.
Additional reporting by Henry Nicholls and Hannah Mackay, Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood
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