Britain’s prime minister spent three days in intensive care, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab officially deputizing for him while the government was due to make a crucial decision on whether to lift the crippling national lockdown.
The UK government was under-prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, as officials themselves have put it, and neither is it for a power vacuum that emerged in Boris Johnson’s absence, according to insiders’ accounts reported by The Telegraph.
A senior government source told the newspaper that the emergency plan developed by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat did not consider a scenario under which senior cabinet members were “taken out” one by one, rather than altogether.
“That was left up to the Cabinet Office, who had a plan for a nuclear strike, or a terrorist attack, or something of that nature,” they were quoted as saying, adding that the Prime Minister being incapacitated created “confusion” as to who is in charge of decision-making.
With almost 8,000 coronavirus-related deaths and more than 65,000 cases as of Thursday, the UK is predicted to become the country worst hit by the pandemic in Europe in the coming months.
Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care on Sunday, 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He was moved out on Thursday and is currently recovering on a hospital ward. Several other high-profile officials, including senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove and Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings, have gone into self-isolation. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has recently recovered from the disease.
Dominic Raab, who combines the positions of first secretary of state and foreign secretary, has become the de facto stand-in for Johnson (the British system does not formally provide for a deputy to the prime minister).
It came as pressure is mounting on the government on how and when to lift the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Raab did not provide a timeline on that decision, which was originally due by next Thursday, telling reporters that the government is not “at the review stage” now.
Meanwhile, the public and officials alike have voiced concerns over who has been conferred the authority over national security policy.
“It is important to have 100% clarity as to where responsibility for UK national security decisions now lies,” Tory MP Tobias Ellwood tweeted on Tuesday. “We must anticipate adversaries attempting to exploit any perceived weakness.”