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After three nights British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved out of the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ hospital in London after testing positive for coronavirus almost a fortnight ago. The PM will continue to be monitored in hospital however for the time being, as he still experiences symptoms of the disease. The country watched with bated breath as Johnson was admitted to hospital on Monday night, with rumours circulating that he was to be put on a ventilator. The 53 year old was reported as being in ‘extremely good spirits’ as his treatment in intensive care came to an end.
The news regarding Johnson’s recovery comes as a 52 year old doctor, Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, who warned Boris Johnson in March that there wasn’t enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for NHS workers, sadly died after also falling victim to Covid-19. The medic, who was a locum urologist based at Homerton Hospital in East London, had written to the Prime Minister on 18th March, urging him to provide each and every care workers with adequate protective equipment. He said that healthcare workers “are in direct contact with patients” and have a “human right like others to live in this world disease-free with our family and children”. Mr Chowdhury himself has left behind a wife and two children.
The call for urgent provision of PPE is one echoed by so many in not only medical circles but in all fields of public service. Transport workers and supermarket staff also continue to work without sufficient protection and are by the very nature of their work, at a high risk of contracting the virus. The situation has been equated to going into battle without armour. London Mayor Sadiq Khan was lambasted on popular morning TV show Good Morning Britain this week for not providing London bus and underground staff with proper PPE. He explained that the advice the government was giving was that it wasn’t necessary for transport staff; the reality being that there simply isn’t enough to go around.
Ironically, after voting to leave the European Union, Britain has found itself now reliant on its European partners’ assistance at this time of crisis. It was reported that after an appeal to its NATO allies, Germany has decided to send 60 ventilators to the UK, a small number given the target of 18,000 set by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, but nevertheless every little helps at a time like this. More than 480 ventilators were obtained by the UK last month from China, the US, Taiwan and Sweden. In total Britain has around 10,000 ventilators, which leaves a shortfall as we progress steadily up the coronavirus graph ‘curve’. Some are criticising the UK’s decision to reject an EU scheme to work together to order the life-saving equipment, stating it is politically motivated by Brexiteers. The government for its part claims that it missed an e-mail inviting it to join.
The UK government was expected to make a statement regarding the current lockdown conditions towards the end of this week, but with the Prime Minister having taken ill it’s now expected that an announcement will be made some time next week. Based on the recent statements made by both the government and its medical advisors, it’s likely that the lockdown will continue for a number of weeks. With the number of deaths to Covid-19 continuing to rise in Britain – the latest figure for deaths on Thursday was 919 –
the government does want to wind back its social distancing measures at this stage. Experts emphasize that the current death toll would be much higher if it wasn’t for the social distancing implemented over the last three weeks. Britain’s Chief Scientists Chris Vallance, has said that the peak in the pandemic is at least two weeks away. This can still be reduced by staying at home measures.
Over the next month or so the government will have to play a balancing act between protecting public health, supporting the NHS and managing the economy. They have had to rethink their strategy from the days when they were advocating ‘herd immunity’ and Johnson appeared on daytime TV describing how one just needed to let the disease spread amongst the population. At that point it was clear that Johnson and his team didn’t have a clear understanding of the virulence of this disease and what the consequences would be for the health service if overwhelmed. The image of the PM stating back then at a press conference that he had happily shaken the hands of coronavirus patients will stick in our minds forever.
Since then, Johnson himself has succumbed to Covid-19 and remains in hospital. His pregnant girlfriend also contracted it. The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been diagnosed and other members of his cabinet may follow suit. Having experienced this deadly disease first hand and having been in intensive care, Johnson will likely be very careful moving forward and won’t want to lift social distancing measures too soon. With Easter weekend approaching, it will be one like no other, as the government urges everyone to stay at home.