Boris Johnson and COVID-19: A Timeline

Peter Russell

April 27, 2020

Editor's note, 2nd May 2020: This article was updated with the latest developments.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was back at work this morning making a live statement in Downing Street. He'd been recuperating at Chequers since leaving London's St Thomas' hospital where he'd spent time in the COVID-19 ICU ward.

He said the UK was dealing with "the biggest single challenge since the war" and "it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer COVID patients in ICU, and real signs now that we are passing through the peak".

He thanked the public for "forbearance" saying" "Thanks to our collective national resolve we are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission to prevent our National Health Service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.

"And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide." 

He described the virus, "from personal experience" as being like "an unexpected and invisible mugger". 

Here is a timeline of how Boris Johnson went from 'mild symptoms' to needing critical care.


3rd March: Boris Johnson sets out the Government's coronavirus action plan and urges regular handwashing to avoid infection.

He appears relatively unruffled by any personal threat from COVID-19, telling journalists: "I was at a hospital the other night, where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients, and I shook hands with everybody, you'll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands."

He stresses that "for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual".

27th March: Mr Johnson reveals that over the past 24 hours he has tested positive for the coronavirus after developing "mild symptoms" – a fever and a persistent cough.

He says he was persuaded to undergo testing on the personal advice of Prof Chris Whitty, the Government's chief medical adviser.

In a video message on Twitter he says he is now self-isolating but continuing to lead the Government's response using video conferencing.

30th March: Mr Johnson chairs a meeting of the cabinet by video link.

The Mail on Sunday later quotes Number 10 'insiders' who say the Prime Minister had been "coughing and spluttering his way through conference calls." It says according to a 'senior source', Mr Johnson "has not been resting enough".

1st April: Mr Johnson reassures the public in one of his Twitter video messages from self-isolation that "although I am sequestered here in Number 10, I am thanks to the miracles of modern technology, able to be in constant touch".

2nd April: Mr Johnson makes a rare public appearance in the doorway of Number 11 Downing Street to take part in the second clap for our carers event.

"Thanks NHS, thank you," he shouts, before heading back indoors.

3rd April: Mr Johnson says he is feeling better but unable to come out of isolation because he still has a temperature.

Parliamentary lobby correspondents are told the PM's symptoms are mild and that he was able to chair the morning coronavirus meeting with ministers and officials.

4th April: Mr Johnson's pregnant partner, Carrie Symonds, 32, says she has spent the past week in bed with the main symptoms of COVID-19.

She says she has not been tested but feels stronger and "on the mend".

She admits that being pregnant with COVID-19 is "obviously worrying" and urges other women in the same position to follow the most up-to-date guidance.

5th April: Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has recently returned to work after testing positive for COVID-19, tells Sky News that Mr Johnson is in "good spirits", working in Downing Street, and has "very much got his hand on the tiller".

Around 8pm, as the Queen's special message to the nation is aired on TV, Mr Johnson is taken to St Thomas' Hospital for tests on the advice of his doctor.

His Downing Street office describes it as a precautionary step.

6th April: After spending the night in hospital, Mr Johnson tweets: "I'm in good spirits and keeping in touch with my team, as we work together to fight this virus and keep everyone safe."

The Prime Minister's condition worsens during the afternoon and he is moved into the intensive care unit at St Thomas'.

Number 10 says Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, who is also First Secretary of State, will stand in for him as necessary.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman says the Queen is being kept constantly updated on her Prime Minister's condition.

US President Donald Trump says he is praying for his "very good friend" Boris Johnson.

He says he has talked to the leaders of several US pharmaceutical companies to ask whether they could help the Prime Minister's treatment.

7th April:

At the daily COVID-19 briefing, the PM's de facto deputy, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Mr Raab says the Prime Minister is 'stable' in hospital. "He's receiving standard oxygen treatment" and has "not required any mechanical ventilation" and "remains in good spirits".

He tells journalists: "I'm confident he'll pull through because if there's one thing I know about this Prime Minister, he's a fighter."

Questioned over who was in overall command of the strategy for dealing with the pandemic, Mr Raab said the cabinet had "very clear directions, very clear instructions from the Prime Minister".

The Queen sent a message to Mr Johnson's fiancée, Carrie Symonds, and to the Johnson family, saying they were in her thoughts and that she wished the Prime Minister a full and speedy recovery.

Prince William said in a message on Twitter: "Our thoughts are with the Prime Minister and his family, who like so many in the UK and around the world are affected by coronavirus. We wish him a speedy recovery at this difficult time."

8th April: The Prime Minister's spokesman says Mr Johnson remains in intensive care on oxygen and describes his condition as "stable" and that he is in "good spirits".

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, says the Prime Minister's condition is improving.

9th April: The Prime Minister was moved out of intensive care, Downing Street said.

10th April: Boris Johnson's father, Stanley Johnson, says the PM "must rest up" after he was moved back to the wards from intensive care. He tells the BBC that his son's illness has "got the whole country to realise this is a serious event".

12th April: The Prime Minister was discharged from London's St Thomas' Hospital. Later he released a video message saying: "It is hard to find the words to express my debt to the NHS for saving my life."  He singled out two nurses, Jenny from New Zealand and Luis from Portugal, who he said "stood by my bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way".

His fiancee Carrie Symonds tweeted: "There were times last week that were very dark indeed. My heart goes out to all those in similar situations, worried sick about their loved ones."

27th April: Boris Johnson returned to work and gave a live statement in Downing Street.

3rd May: Mr Johnson gave an interview to the Sun on Sunday. He gave a very different version of events for his time in ICU when he was said to be in "good spirits". 

"To be honest, the doctors had all sorts of plans for what to do if things went badly wrong," he told the paper. "I was not in particularly brilliant shape because the oxygen levels in my blood kept going down."

At one stage he said: "It was 50-50 whether they were going to have to put a tube down my ­windpipe," and: "They were starting to think about how to handle it presentationally..."

Quoting the film comedy where the Russian president dies and cronies vie to take over: "They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario. I was not in particularly brilliant shape." 


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