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What Boris Johnson's coronavirus diagnosis means for the government

27 March 2020

10:31 PM

27 March 2020

10:31 PM

Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus. The Prime Minister took a test for the virus on Thursday at the advice of Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty after experiencing mild symptoms. As a result Johnson is now self-isolating in 10 Downing Street, a spokesman said:

‘After experiencing mild symptoms yesterday, the Prime Minister was tested for coronavirus on the personal advice of England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty.

The test was carried out in No 10 by NHS staff and the result of the test was positive. In keeping with the guidance, the Prime Minister is self-isolating in Downing Street. He is continuing to lead the government’s response to coronavirus.’


So, what happens now? In the immediate term, little will change. The Prime Minister has used a Twitter video to say that he will still lead the government response – be it from the safety of his own residence. The person who is the ‘designated survivor’ – the figure to step in should Johnson no longer be able to fulfil his duties – is Dominic Raab as First Secretary of State. For now, however, it seems that Johnson will continue to serve from a safe distance – his currently mild symptoms don’t prevent him from working remotely:

Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.

I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.

Together we will beat this. #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/9Te6aFP0Ri

— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 27, 2020

Johnson is not the first political figure to self isolate over the disease – both Michel Barnier and David Frost have tested positive. However, the diagnosis raises questions as to who else is infected. In the beginning of the outbreak, Johnson made a show of still shaking people’s hands and meeting with his team – but in the past week that has changed and social distancing has been practised in No. 10 (and there are also vats of hand sanitiser everywhere in the building).

While Johnson has moved to chairing Cabinet remotely – he has been in close proximity to both the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer thanks to his presence at recent press conferences. He also has had contact with senior No. 10 staff – though some have been working remotely. Meanwhile, his partner Carrie Symonds as a pregnant woman falls into one of the vulnerable medical groups.

Over the coming days, we could start to hear of several more diagnoses among Johnson’s inner circle. This diagnosis will shine a light on the government’s approach to tackling the illness – with questions over contact-tracing and who else could now have to self isolate. It will become a bigger issue if several members of the government’s top team are suddenly out of action.

This post will be updated as more details emerge. <//>

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