LONDON – The size of a country – its DNA, or sometimes its political system – becomes more visible when its leader is struck by a position. How to respond, and what should be said – or not told – the population?
The hospitalization of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the first head of government to be affected by the corona virus, has pushed this issue to the surface in Britain. Johnson was transferred to the intensive care unit of a London hospital after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened.
People in the UK are not sure how transparent the authorities are with Johnson’s severe conditions. Johnson himself initially said that he had mild symptoms and ran the country in quarantine. When he was hospitalized on Sunday, 10 days after being diagnosed with a virus, the official line that came out of Downing Street was that it was not an emergency, but rather a “precautionary measure”. “
Twenty-four hours later, he was treated intensively. Now the public has been told by the senior cabinet minister that he is not intubated – but receives oxygen.
Britain has no recent experience to be called. Seven prime ministers were killed in office, the last in the 19th century. Two of Conservative Johnson’s predecessors in the premiership, his famous heroes Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, resigned from his post in the 1950s while sick.
Unlike its allies and fellow western democracies, the United States, Britain does not have a septuagenarian who holds the highest office since Churchill, so the prime minister’s health problems have not been a national concern for seven decades. There is also no killing, or attempted murder, to compete with.
Nor is there anything like the Communist Party Politburo, as in China or the former Soviet Union, to control medical information about sick leaders.
STRONG AMERICAN PRESIDENT
While many Americans will see or read about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or efforts on the lives of President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in the next two decades, going further back may offer more relevant cases to this day.
In 1841, US President William Henry Harrison died of typhus and pneumonia in only 31 days of his term, the first American president to die in office. Nine years later, Zachary Taylor, the country’s 12th president, died of stomach flu. He served from March 1849 until July 1850, also dying at the office.
President Woodrow Wilson was known as the American warlord during World War I. His case is interesting. Wilson suffered a severe stroke in 1919, a year after the global conflict ended, and was largely paralyzed for the remainder of his presidency until 1921. That led to speculation that his wife, Edith, was running the country. (Wilson is also the last US president to compete with the global pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million worldwide.)
RUSSIAN AND SOVIET: CONTROL HEALTH MESSAGES
Two of his Soviet predecessors had a debilitating health problem that was kept out of the masses by the Kremlin when maneuvering intrigue mastered behind the Red Field onion dome. They both have a short service life compared to Putin’s 20 years and counting.
Secretary General Yuri Andropov has been in power since November 1982 for more than a year, most of that time permanently in Moscow hospitals after suffering kidney failure. His health and death were initially kept in the country, until the mourning period was announced. He was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who also spent most of his term in hospital, dying after 13 months in power. Young and healthy Mikhail Gorbachev followed them, overseeing the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union a few years later.
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