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Boris Johnson has not spoken to one of his most senior ministers since Saturday, it has emerged, as the prime minister faces questions over whether he should be running the country from a hospital bed after getting coronavirus.
At the daily Downing Street briefing on the outbreak, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is the PM’s “designated survivor”, appeared to admit he hadn’t had a conversation with Johnson “in person” since the latter was admitted to hospital on Sunday with continuing Covid-19 symptoms.
“I spoke to the PM on Saturday. That was the last time I spoke to him in person,” he said.
The remark will raise questions over how effectively Johnson is dealing with the crisis if he is having limited contact with his closest colleagues.
In Johnson’s absence, the daily government coronavirus meeting was chaired by Raab, who is also the first secretary of state and would take over as prime minister if Johnson were incapacitated.
Raab also ducked a question on the premier being sick enough to be in hospital but well enough to run the country.
Raab replied: “That’s something he will decide on the medical advice he’s received from his doctor.”
England’s chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty, added that while he was not responsible for Johnson’s care, it was possible for some people to manage “massively complicated things from a hospital bed”, while others could not. “It’s a conversation for the doctors and nurses who are looking after them,” he added.
The press conference was dominated by questions over the PM’s health following Sunday’s shock announcement. Johnson remains under observation at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.
Raab said he would not comment on security matters when asked if he had taken over any of the prime minister’s security responsibilities.
He said Johnson was being “kept abreast” of developments.
Asked if the prime minister was taking a risk by continuing to work, Raab said: “Just to be clear, the PM – both in terms of going into St Thomas’ yesterday – was taking the advice of doctors, so he’s followed the doctors’ advice there and, in terms of his recovery in the days ahead, will continue to do so.”
Raab reiterated that the prime minister was admitted to hospital “as a precaution only”.
He said: “He was admitted to hospital for tests as a precaution only.
“And that was because some of the symptoms that he had when he first tested positive had persisted.
“He’s had a comfortable night in St Thomas’s, he’s in good spirits, and he’s being regularly updated.
“And he still remains in charge of the government and we are getting on with all of the various strands of work to make sure at home and abroad we can defeat the virus and pull the country through coronavirus and the challenges that undoubtedly we’re facing at the moment.”
Raab also said that the prime minister’s team are “full throttle” in making sure that his directions and instructions are being implemented whilst he is in hospital.
He said: “Look, he’s [Johnson] in charge, but he’ll continue to take doctors’ advice on what to do next.”