Boris Johnson ‘improving’ and ‘sitting up in intensive care bed’ with Covid-19

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson’s condition is “improving” and he is now “sitting up in bed” after spending two nights in intensive care with coronavirus, the Chancellor has said.

Rishi Sunak said the Prime Minister has been “engaging positively” with the medics treating him in St Thomas’s Hospital in London on Wednesday.

Downing Street later confirmed Mr Johnson remains in intensive care but is making “steady progress”.

But the boost came as the nation saw its record number of deaths in hospitals, with a rise of 938 taking the toll to at least 7,097, according to Department of Health figures.

Though significantly larger than the previous highest toll of 786, Deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean said new cases are not “accelerating out of control”.

Mr Sunak said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the PM, will chair a Cobra emergency committee on Thursday to discuss the lockdown measures with leaders of the devolved nations.

Earlier, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the lockdown will not end in Wales next week, ahead of the UK-wide review into the restrictions.

At the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Sunak unveiled a £750 million bailout to keep struggling charities afloat in the Treasury’s latest emergency measure.

Updating the nation on the PM’s condition, he said: “The latest from the hospital is the Prime Minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving.

“I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and engaging positively with the clinical team.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the development on Twitter, adding: “He will fight through!”

The PM’s three-week review into the lockdown measures had been due on Monday, but Downing Street is now saying it will be “on or around” that mark.

Mr Sunak declined to “speculate about the future”, saying the evidence to inform any review “will only be available next week”.

But after Mr Drakeford said “we will not throw away the gains” by “abandoning our efforts just as they begin to bear fruit”, the key figures leading the response were pressed on whether different approaches could be taken in different nations.

“I suspect that simple strategies might well turn out to be the best to use, but we’ll see,” Prof McLean responded.

In Northern Ireland, Stormont minister Deirdre Hargey indicated there will be no relaxation of restrictions there at next week’s review.

Though the death toll rose, Prof McLean said there was “good news” in the daily number of new cases, which is a better indicator of whether distancing measures are working than fatalities.

(PA Graphics)

“This count of new cases in the UK, day by day over the last few weeks, is not accelerating out of control,” she said.

NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis warned that “this is not the time to become complacent”, however.

“We are beginning to see the benefits, I believe (of following Government measures), but the really critical thing, I believe, is that we have to continue following instructions, we have to continue following social distancing, because if we don’t, the virus will start to spread again,” he said.

In other developments:

– Prof Powis said testing is just “one part of a set of different things” after England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said there is “a lot to learn” from Germany’s extensive programme

– No 10 said the second NHS Nightingale Hospital will be opened on Friday at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham after the first facility in London took its initial patients

– Mr Sunak pledged to match public donations to the BBC’s Big Night In charity appeal on April 23, guaranteeing a minimum of £20 million

– The Royal College of Nursing warned a lack of protective equipment is “fundamentally compromising” the care nurses can give to patients

– The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News announced they will go into liquidation as the crisis continued to devastate the media industry

– World Health Organisation regional director Dr Hans Kluge said any easing of restrictions required “very careful consideration” as he warned progress in Europe remained “extremely fragile”.

The first good news for Mr Johnson came earlier in the day when Downing Street said he is “responding to treatment” while remaining in “good spirits”.

The PM was said to no longer be working while following the advice of doctors, and receiving just the “standard oxygen treatment” and “breathing without any other assistance”.

He was admitted to hospital on Sunday after suffering a persistent cough and temperature, 10 days after testing positive for the virus.