UK government said Boris Johnson was fine, can we trust them on Covid-19?
Going by the official line, Boris Johnson’s admission to hospital was a surprise. Throughout the week, the PM and his cabinet repeatedly said that nothing was wrong. Can we rely on them to tell the truth amid a deadly pandemic?
Johnson was hospitalized on Sunday night, 10 days after testing positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus. He was moved to intensive care on Monday, after his condition worsened, leaving Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to assume leadership duties.
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Bar gossip in the media and on Twitter, there was no evidence that Johnson’s condition was quite that bad. The prime minister was in isolation, but continued working. He chaired “digital cabinets” and addressed the nation via video clips recorded on his phone.
Johnson looked visibly ill when he emerged from Downing Street to applaud frontline healthcare workers on Thursday evening, raising doubt over his promise to return to work on Friday. When he remained isolated, Health Secretary Matt Hancock simply said he had “no idea” when the PM would return.
Putting on a brave face, Johnson released a video message later that day, claiming that he was “feeling better,” and suffering from only “one of the symptoms.”
Another quick update from me on our campaign against #coronavirus.You are saving lives by staying at home, so I urge you to stick with it this weekend, even if we do have some fine weather.#StayHomeSaveLivespic.twitter.com/4GHmJhxXQ0— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) April 3, 2020
Taken at face value, Johnson was on the road to recovery. Speaking at a press conference shortly before the PM was admitted to hospital, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that Johnson was “OK.”
Likewise, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab didn’t speak of Johnson’s deterioration on Monday, saying instead that his boss “had a comfortable night” and was “in good spirits.”
When reports surfaced in Russian media that Johnson would be placed on a ventilator, Downing Street dismissed them as “disinformation.”
That is disinformation. Our specialist government units have seen a rise in false and misleading narratives since the coronavirus pandemic started. It’s vital that any disinformation is knocked down quickly.
However, it then emerged late on Monday that the PM was moved to the ICU specifically in case he requires ventilation. “He is very likely to have been put on a mechanical ventilator to breathe for him,” a professor of medical imaging at University College London told the Guardian.
Sometimes, the contradictions were more open. Addressing the UK on Monday evening, Raab said that Johnson remained “in charge” of a “full-throttle” government response from his hospital bed. In the very same speech, Raab admitted that he hadn’t spoken to Johnson since Saturday.
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Boris Johnson, his office, and his cabinet, have persistently downplayed the severity of the PM’s illness. Since the British leader entered isolation, the gulf between reality and spin has widened.
The prime minister was accused of insensitivity when he told the British public last month that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” Yet nobody in government has approached the same level of brutal honesty when discussing Johnson’s own condition.
Speaking to the BBC later on Monday night, Raab said that the government will “bring the whole country through the coronavirus challenge that we face right now.” But with nobody willing to acknowledge the reality of Johnson’s condition, the public might be inclined not to believe him.
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