UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is spending a third night in the critical care unit where his condition is improving, as officials draw up plans to extend the lockdown in an bid to control the UK's growing coronavirus crisis.
Latest data shows Britain's national picture has turned bleaker, with a record 938 people dying of the virus in the 24 hours to 5 pm Tuesday, bringing the U.K. toll to 7,097.
With Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in charge, the country is heading into the worst of the crisis without its leader and a major decision is looming on whether to extend or lift the lockdown. Officials say it's highly likely restrictions will be kept for weeks longer when the restrictions are due for review on Monday, as the country's death toll continues to rise and ministers wait for infections to peak, people familiar with the matter said.
There's not enough evidence yet to justify relaxing the restrictions, though discussions are ongoing and no formal decision has yet been taken, according to the officials, who asked not to be named because the plans are private.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who announced the prime minister's improving condition in a televised news conference Wednesday, warned of the significant ongoing negative impact on people's lives.
"I can't stand here and say that there isn't going to be hardship ahead," he said. "There is."
Scientists predict the UK will be headed into the peak of the outbreak over the next week, at the very moment it has a power vacuum in Johnson's absence. The government is already battling criticism of its handling of the crisis, with hospitals short of protective equipment and testing rates lagging behind other countries.
With signs of the pandemic turning the corner in Spain and Italy, Europe's hardest-hit countries, Britain is moving into its most critical phase, with deaths still rising.
On Wednesday, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser Angela McLean said the number of new cases is "not accelerating out of control," which is positive for the National Health Service.
"The rate at which this is rising is definitely getting slower," McLean said. "It looks like we're beginning to get to a flat curve" on hospitalizations, she said.
On Tuesday, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said there were signs for optimism in the numbers for new infections, which were stable. There would need to be more data, though, before the authorities could make any decision to end a lockdown that's crippling the economy.
Johnson has been in St Thomas' Hospital in London since Sunday after struggling to shake off virus symptoms, including a cough and a fever. He's been receiving standard treatment with oxygen and has not needed a ventilator, the premier's spokesman James Slack earlier told reporters in London. He continues to make steady progress and remains in intensive care, 10 Downing Street said Wednesday evening.
While Johnson is "in good spirits," he is not working, and Raab is now in charge of the government in all areas. "He has the ability to contact those that he needs to," Slack said. "He is following the advice of his doctors at all times."
"The latest from the hospital is that the prime minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving," Sunak said Wednesday, as he also announced 750 million pounds ($930 million) of support for charities hit by the crisis. "He's been sitting up and engaging positively with the clinical team."