Coronavirus: PM in 'early phase of his recovery' as Britons told lockdown must continue

Jon Craig, chief political correspondent
·4-min read
Britons are being warned the Easter weekend will be crucial in the fight against the coronavirus
Britons are being warned the Easter weekend will be crucial in the fight against the coronavirus

Boris Johnson appears to be out of danger at the start of an Easter weekend that ministers claim will be critical in the battle against coronavirus.

After three nights in intensive care, the prime minister is now back in a hospital ward after a gradual improvement in his condition that has left him in "extremely good spirits".

Downing Street announced Mr Johnson's move out of intensive care shortly after his stand-in, Dominic Raab, told the nation it is too early to lift the coronavirus lockdown.

With temperatures set to soar over the Easter weekend, police forces have warned they are ready to take action against those who flout rules designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking after chairing a COBRA meeting, Mr Raab declared: "We're not done yet. After all the efforts everybody has made, after all the sacrifices we've made, let's not ruin it now."

The government has launched a huge Easter holiday publicity blitz urging the public to stay at home, not visit friends or family and observe the lockdown rules over the weekend.

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Launching the campaign, a spokesman said: "We are at a crucial moment in preventing further transmission of coronavirus, and so it is vital that we continue following the government's guidance to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives."

Earlier, Number 10 posted a tweet in Mr Johnson's name urging: "This Easter, don't go and see your grandad. Instead keep in touch by video call or over the phone."

There were concerns the government's message would be undermined by the disclosure that a key Johnson ally in defending the lockdown, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, drove 40 miles to visit his parents last weekend.

However, a source told Sky News: "Mr Jenrick went to drop off essential medicines and food to his parents who are self-isolating due to their age. He followed guidance and left the items outside their home."

The prime minister was admitted to hospital on Sunday evening and moved to intensive care on Monday evening, prompting alarm at the heart of government and among his family members.

Announcing his move out of intensive care on Thursday, a Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister has been moved from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery. He is in extremely good spirits."

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The news came as a massive relief to cabinet colleagues and also to his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who broke her silence on the PM's illness by tweeting a jubilant message of gratitude to the NHS.

Among the many messages of goodwill from the UK and abroad, US President Donald Trump tweeted: "Great news: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just moved out of intensive care. Get well Boris!!!"

But while there is relief that Mr Johnson is now out of danger, there are fears in Whitehall - after Number 10 spoke of "the early phase of his recovery" - that it will be at least a month before he is back at work.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street news conference, before Mr Johnson left intensive care, Mr Raab had said the prime minister was continuing "to make positive steps forward".

But asked if he had spoken to Mr Johnson since taking over his responsibilities, the foreign secretary said: "Not yet. I think it's important particularly while he's in intensive care to let him focus on the recovery.

"We in the government have got this covered."

On keeping the lockdown in force, Mr Raab said: "It's been almost three weeks and we're starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we've all made.

"But the deaths are still rising and we haven't yet reached the peak of the virus. So it's still too early to lift the measures that we put in place.

"We must stick to the plan and we must continue to be guided by the science."

And urging people to stay home this weekend, Mr Raab said: "With the Easter bank holiday coming up, I normally spend it with my two boys, their grandparents, doing an Easter egg hunt.

"I know there's going to be lots of people who would normally be planning a family get together or just a day in the sunshine with friends and loved ones.

"Unfortunately, right now, we just can't do those sorts of things. And I'm really sorry about that."

Reinforcing the stay at home message, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was important to keep the lockdown in place.

"The measures that everybody has taken, the difficult things that we've all had to do, are making a difference, they're making a big difference," he said.

"We know that the social distancing is working and we know that people are doing what they're supposed to do and we need to keep doing that.

"And the reason we need to keep doing that is because it stops the transmission of the virus in the community and we know that that is already happening."