London, United Kingdom — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “in very good spirits” on Friday after ending three days of intensive care treatment for COVID-19, his spokesman said, as his government urged people to remain in lockdown over Easter.
The 55-year-old leader left intensive care at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital on Thursday evening and will now be monitored closely, his official spokesman told reporters at a daily briefing.
“The prime minister is back on a ward and continuing his recovery, which is at an early stage. He continues to be in very good spirits,” he said.
“He was waving his thanks to all the nurses and doctors that he saw as he was being moved from the intensive care unit back to the ward.”
Johnson’s improving condition came as the government continues to impose an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to try to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
It announced another 881 deaths on Thursday, taking the UK total to 7,978, with more than 65,000 cases so far confirmed.
That is thought to reflect only a fraction of the actual number of people infected because not everyone has been tested for the virus.
Despite the grim tolls, there were indications the stringent social distancing regime introduced on March 23 could be starting to have a positive impact.
“We are beginning to see the benefits of this social distancing,” said Stephen Powis, medical director of England’s state-run National Health Service (NHS).
“We do believe the virus is spreading less,” he told the BBC.
But Powis stressed it was “critical” that people keep obeying the social distancing measures over the long Easter weekend, when fine weather in forecast.
“It’s still too early to really be confident that we are turning the corner,” he added.
“We need to completely and utterly make sure that we all comply with the instructions we have been given.”
Johnson is the most high-profile world leader to suffer from the coronavirus.
He was hospitalized Sunday over concerns he still had a cough and high temperature after spending 10 days in self-isolation in a flat above his Downing Street office.
While in intensive care the Conservative leader received “standard oxygen treatment” and did not require a ventilator.
But his transfer there Monday, unprecedented for a prime minister during a national emergency in modern times, rattled Britain and sent shockwaves around the world.
US President Donald Trump called Johnson’s release from intensive care “a very positive development”.
His father Stanley Johnson said on Saturday he must now “rest up”, after last week trying to keep working during his self-isolation.
“He has to take time,” the elder Johnson told BBC radio.
“I cannot believe you can walk away from this and get straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been deputizing for Johnson in his absence.
He led an emergency meeting of senior ministers on Friday, which discussed a formal review of the lockdown measures set for next week.
Implemented for an initial three weeks, the measures are widely expected to remain in place until at least the end of the month.
However, fears are growing about the indirect impact of an even more prolonged lockdown on people’s health and finances.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has reportedly stressed in the government’s daily coronavirus response meetings that an economic downturn will have a broad impact.
There could be less taxpayer funds for the state-run health service, and people may not be able to access regular treatments or vaccinations. Increased risk of domestic violence and depression was also cited.