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British Prime Minister Tests Positive For COVID-19

Mar 27, 2020
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I've developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus - that's to say, a temperature and a persistent cough. And on the advice of the chief medical officer, I've taken a test. That has come out positive, so I am working from home. I'm self-isolating.

KING: The U.K.'s health secretary, a man named Matt Hancock, has also tested positive. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: What does it mean for the U.K. that Boris Johnson is positive, even though he says his symptoms are mild and he's still working?

LANGFITT: Well, it's a big deal. I mean, obviously, he's not only the leader of the country, but I think that particularly in this crisis, he's been the very public face of trying to manage it. He's been doing nearly daily appearances in press conferences, and his style, you know, Noel, is to be very much a cheerleader, to try to be charismatic, instill confidence. He's a biographer of Churchill so analysts see this as sort of - as he thinks he sees it as potentially a Churchillian moment. He looked fine in this video that you just played, but of course, I think people will be watching very closely this afternoon to see if he does his afternoon press conference from No. 10 Downing Street.

KING: If Boris Johnson can't do his job, who takes over?

LANGFITT: Well, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is the most senior member of the Cabinet. The government has indicated he would probably be next in line. He's a bright, capable member of Parliament. He's from Surrey, suburban London. And right now, as you might expect, he is trending on U.K. Twitter.

KING: And what are the implications of this fellow Matt Hancock, the U.K. health secretary, contracting the virus?

LANGFITT: I think it's considerable, Noel. Matt Hancock is working with the health system to deal with COVID-19. The National Health Service here, as we've reported and you and I have talked about, is already showing signs of being overstressed - stretched, not having enough protective devices, you know, and masks, things along those lines. Hancock has been taking a lot of heat for this. He's been talking about getting more than 2 million more masks to the health care staff. So he's really at the center of where this story is almost certainly heading, and to find out that he has also contracted it - it's pretty serious.

KING: Who would be the equivalent of Matt Hancock in the United States? Would it be somebody like Dr. Fauci?

LANGFITT: I'm not sure necessarily exactly where he would fit in. I would simply say that Hancock - he has been in some of these press conferences. He's on the front pages of the paper all the time. And so I would say that he is one of the health care voices. There's also the chief medical adviser there - other people. But he's central to the conversation here, particularly the preparedness and the ability of the National Health Service, which has been underfunded and already been stretched before this happened, to be able to deal with this challenge.

KING: The U.K. announced lockdown measures - right? - after a long time where people thought they weren't doing enough, and Boris Johnson said, OK, people can't be out in the streets except for essential reasons. Are people following the lockdown measures?

LANGFITT: Much more than they were. I mean, if you remember, there was a beautiful weekend here in southeastern England where people ignored them...

KING: Yeah. Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...And they went to parks, and they ended up locking up the parks because nobody was really listening to Boris Johnson. So he had to put down these rules. And when I was out yesterday with my boom microphone for several hours, walking around town, walking along the River Thames and most people - people were out and about, but they were following the rules by and large. That said, we've had very good weather recently so people have been out and about.

One thing is that the police officers now have more powers to actually arrest people if they repeatedly refuse to pay attention to the rules. There are also police out with roadblocks and checkpoints to make sure that people are not driving great distances, using this as a vacation, that sort of thing and making sure that they follow the regulations.

KING: How many people in the U.K. have been infected with the virus?

LANGFITT: Nearly 12,000...

KING: Twelve thousand.

LANGFITT: ...And we are up to about 580 Britons who've died from COVID-19 so far.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.