Boris Johnson leaves intensive care, but Britain faces weeks more of lockdown

Downing Street said the prime minister, 55, had been moved back to a ward at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and was in “extremely good spirits.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. –AP Photo/Matt Dunham

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was moved out of intensive care on Thursday, a ray of hope for a country that faces several more weeks under lockdown as its death toll from the coronavirus approached 8,000.

Johnson was hospitalized on Sunday evening after a 10-day bout with the virus and transferred to the intensive care unit on Monday after his condition deteriorated. On Thursday, Downing Street said the prime minister, 55, had been moved back to a ward at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and was in “extremely good spirits.”

Dominic Raab, Britain’s caretaker leader, said that Johnson had made “positive steps” in his recovery, though he offered no timetable for when he might return to work. He also signaled that the government would extend the country’s lockdown beyond next week.

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Raab, the foreign secretary deputized by Johnson to carry out his duties, said the government would not lift restrictions on April 13, the date the prime minister had set when he imposed the measures last month. The lockdown now appears likely to last several more weeks.

“Is it time to ease up on the rules?” Raab said to reporters at No. 10 Downing St. “We’re not done yet. We’ve got to keep going.”

Raab appeared to be adjusting to the reality that Johnson will still be convalescing as the government faces one of the most sensitive decisions of the pandemic: when, and how, to reopen the British economy. The Cabinet plans to make that assessment at the end of next week.

The debate over how to lift the lockdown is replete with trade-offs. Lifting it too soon, experts said, could reignite the contagion and force a new lockdown. But leaving it in place for too long could force many companies into insolvency.

The pressure to reopen the economy is immense. According to Britain’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the lockdown is triggering the largest contraction in economic activity since 1921. It projects that growth will decline by 5% in the first quarter of 2020, and by between 15% and 25% in the second quarter, if the restrictions continue.

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