LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was getting better on Thursday in intensive care where he is battling COVID-19 as his government extended its bank overdraft facility and reviewed the most stringent shutdown in peacetime history.
Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ hospital on Sunday evening with a persistent high temperature and cough and was rushed to intensive care on Monday. He has received oxygen support but not been put on a ventilator.
“Things are getting better for him,” his culture minister, Oliver Dowden, said on Thursday. “He’s stable, improving, sat up and engaged with medical staff.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said Johnson appeared to be doing “better” after what he described as a “tough bout”.
With a prime minister in intensive care, the British government was facing two major issues: how to finance a vast increase in state spending to support the shuttered economy, and when to start easing lockdown measures.
With the world’s fifth largest economy facing potentially the worst economic hit since World War Two amid historic spending and tax cuts, the government said it had expanded its overdraft facility with the Bank of England.
The Bank of England has agreed temporarily to finance government borrowing in response to COVID-19 if funds cannot immediately be raised from debt markets, reviving a measure last widely used during the 2008 financial crisis.
The government and BoE said any borrowing from the Ways and Means facility – effectively the government’s overdraft with the BoE – would be repaid by the end of the year.
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DEATH TOLL RISING
While Johnson’s condition was said to be improving, it was unclear how long he might be incapacitated, with some political commentators saying there was a power vacuum in his absence.
The United Kingdom is entering what scientists say is the deadliest phase of the outbreak, with deaths expected to continue to rise over the Easter weekend. Latest figures show total deaths in hospitals from COVID-19 have reached 7,097.
The government’s emergency response gathering, known as COBR, will on Thursday discuss how it should deal with a review of lockdown measures.
Johnson’s designated deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, will chair the meeting, although no final decision will be made. London’s mayor and the Welsh regional government have both said the lockdown would stay in place.
Raab has said the government will continue to follow the strategy to combat the coronavirus set out by Johnson and that his cabinet would collectively make necessary decisions.
“No one pretends that this is easy with the prime minister in hospital. But the likelihood is that his recovery will take time and we don’t have much,” the pro-government Telegraph newspaper said in its editorial on Thursday.
“The cabinet cannot afford to wait until he is better before working up ways out of this dreadful impasse.”
In an indication the shutdown measures are working, the number of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions in Britain is beginning to show signs of flattening, said Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service.
The upbeat assessment boosted Britain’s stock markets as investors pinned hopes on the COVID-19 crisis nearing a peak.
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