United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized on Sunday, nine days after revealing that he had tested positive for coronavirus, according to reports in the U.K. media. On March 27, when he announced his positive test, Johnson said that he was experiencing only mild symptoms. But according to a report from The Guardian, his hospitalization followed “days of rumors that his condition has been worsening.”
According to a source cited by a state-run Russian news agency, RIA-Novosti, Johnson’s condition is indeed considerably more serious than the British government is letting on.
In a report that has not been corroborated by British or U.S. media outlets, RIA Novosti claimed that Johnson was “urgently” hospitalized and will be placed on a ventilator.
The Russian news agency said that its source for the information was a person “close to the leadership of the national health system” in the U.K.
Sources told The Guardian last week that Johnson — who continues to lead the British government — “was more seriously ill than either he or his officials were prepared to admit,” and that his doctors were “concerned about his breathing.”
The Guardian report, however, quoted a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office who called Johnson’s hospitalization a “precautionary step” and said that the British leader was admitted to the hospital merely for “tests.”
Nonetheless, the spokesperson acknowledged that Johnson has experienced “persistent symptoms of coronavirus” and will remain in the London hospital, which was not identified, “as long as needed.”
Johnson had long come under criticism for the U.K.’s slow response to the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed the lives of more than 4,300 people in Great Britain. Johnson appeared to take a casual attitude toward the potential danger of the outbreak. On March 3, he publicly boasted that he had visited a hospital that housed coronavirus patients and “shook hands with everybody.”
A British government spokesperson at the time denied that Johnson had actually shaken hands with coronavirus patients at the hospital. But Johnson at the time also appeared to question the “scientific evidence” that the virus could be transmitted through handshakes.
Whether Johnson contracted the virus during his visit to the Kettering General Hospital in England’s Northamptonshire County remains unknown.
As he publicly questioned the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Johnson resisted for weeks imposing a national stay-at-home order on the United Kingdom. Instead, the British government reportedly pursued a strategy of “herd immunity,” according to a Business Insider analysis.
Under that plan, the government would do essentially nothing about the virus, instead letting it infect millions of people who would then, according to the theory, develop immunity to the virus causing the pandemic to simply subside on its own. But even Johnson’s close ally, Donald Trump, publicly disagreed with the strategy, saying it would be “catastrophic” and cause “a lot of death,” as quoted by the BI report.
Johnson reportedly abandoned the “herd immunity” plan after receiving a projection that the strategy would result in the deaths of 250,000 U.K. residents, according to BI. On March 23, four days before announcing his own positive coronavirus test, Johnson ordered a nationwide stay-at-home order for the country.