The prisoner of Downing St: While Carrie Symonds is in Chequers with Dilyn the dog, Boris Johnson is marooned above the shop, his meals left outside his door – as he juggles a national crisis with anxiety for his unborn child, writes RICHARD KAY
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From the plumped up pillows of his king-size bed, through the tall windows above the famous rose garden, he can look down on the vast emptiness of Horse Guards Parade. Closer to home he can see the couriers bringing government papers, the delivery men with their supplies and the to-ing and fro-ing of visitors.
But while there is urgency and vitality all around him, Boris Johnson, locked in the biggest peace time crisis in British history, is now a prisoner of Downing Street – isolated from his loved ones, his ministers and his staff.
Within hours of the diagnosis that he was suffering from coronavirus, the first world leader to contract the illness, the Prime Minister had quarantined himself in the spacious flat above Number 11.
With its five bedrooms, playroom and drawing rooms that lead off the double-height atrium, there is plenty of space.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday morning he had tested positive for coronavirus. He is self-isolating in an ensuite bedroom with a ground-floor study for seven days
It led to fears for his pregnant girlfriend Carrie Symonds. They were last seen together on Saturday. Ms Symonds is thought to be self-isolating in Chequers, Kent
Health secretary Matt Hancock also revealed yesterday he had tested positive for the virus
He, however, is confining himself to a single bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and ground-floor study which – until Thursday night – was the office of Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The confirmation that Mr Johnson had Covid-19 came at midnight, following a swab test after he complained during the afternoon of ‘feeling rough’.
But last night, as the Government response to the pandemic deepened with the news that Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer of England Chris Whitty also had the virus, there was frenzy over just how many people the PM had come into contact with.
While the focus was inevitably on those senior aides and ministers working closely with Mr Johnson, there was special concern over two figures – the Queen and the Prime Minister’s pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds.
He last saw the Queen, who is at Windsor, on March 11. But with the Prince of Wales also testing positive for Covid-19, royal physicians are understandably edgy.
The whereabouts of Carrie, 32, are not clear, but No10 sources dropped a sizeable hint that she was no longer on the premises when they briefed that the PM would be self-isolating for seven days, rather than the 14 recommended for those sharing their lives with family and friends.
Boris Johnson pictured on the Downing Street stairs with Matt Hancock and chief medical officer Chris Whitty, who has also tested positive for the virus
Fears were also raised for the Queen’s health (pictured above holding her weekly audience with the prime minister via telephone on March 25). However, she last met the Prime Minister for an audience on March 11
Carrie herself also suggested she had moved out after posting on her Instagram account a photograph of her with the couple’s dog Dilyn, a Jack Russell cross, with the caption: ‘Self-isolating isn’t so bad with this one’.
The picture may have been taken at Chequers, the PM’s official residence, or Chevening, in Kent: another government home the couple have used in recent times.
Concerns for his pregnant fiance as she leaves London to self-isolate
Concerns have been raised for Boris Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds following his infection.
Miss Symonds, 32, who is due in late May or early June, is understood to have moved out of Downing Street to the Prime Minister’s country retreat at Chequers in Buckinghamshire.
But it is not known whether she was in contact with him while he was symptomatic.
Ms Symonds and Mr Johnson attend the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9
Crucially, Miss Symonds is understood to be in the third trimester and beyond the 28 weeks of pregnancy at which doctors say women shouldtake extra precautions to avoid the virus.
The data on how Covid-19 affects expectant mothers is limited and health officials are not sure whether they are more likely to get serious complications as they are with flu.
As a precaution, the Government is advising pregnant women to take social distancing measures very seriously.
And the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists urges those beyond 28 weeks to be ‘extremely careful’. Despite the limited research, there is no suggestions coronavirus increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
But pregnancy does weaken a woman’s immune system.
This means she will be more at risk of catching the virus and potentially contracting a more severe form.
Dr Michael Head, of the University of Southampton said: ‘It is reassuring that so far there have been few noted complications during pregnancy with Covid-19. However, the health services will be cautious.’
Downing Street yesterday implied Miss Symonds was not living with the Prime Minister at present, although they did not confirm whether she only moved out when he tested positive.
‘It would make sense for her to be at one of those addresses,’ said an aide. ‘There are staff, grounds to stroll in and plenty of fresh air.’
The question is: when did Miss Symonds, whose baby is due in early June, leave Downing Street?
The couple were together last week to celebrate her 32nd birthday, and visited Chequers for part of the day on Saturday.
Even if she was not there when Boris fell ill, the couple will naturally be anxious as Covid-19 seemingly has a typical incubation period of several days. Aides declined to say whether she too had been tested.
For a larger-than-life, hyperactive and gregarious figure like Mr Johnson, the ramifications of the restrictions on his movements will be profound. Ever since the crisis took its deadly grip on the country, No10 has been a bunker on a war-time footing, with staff working round the clock and Boris standing firmly at the helm.
Within minutes of complaining to Professor Whitty that he was feeling unwell, the PM began practising social distancing.
When he and the Chancellor appeared on their respective doorsteps to join the national applause for the NHS on Thursday night, they remained several feet apart.
But when did he go into self-isolation?
The domestic arrangements of the two flats above Numbers 10 and 11 cannot have helped. While Boris works at No10, he uses the flat at No11, just as David Cameron and his family did.
Mr Sunak works from No 11 but because his wife and children have remained at their family home, the accommodation at No10 is empty. It is thought that the PM’s self-isolation began after he received the results of his test.
Immediately, a lockdown began. Interconnecting doors which normally open between No10 and No11 were sealed, and staff were ordered to remain at distance from the Prime Minister.
Yesterday morning, Mr Johnson’s breakfast of fresh berries and juice was delivered on a tray to his closed study door by a flunky in gloves and a mask.
Video-conferencing facilities were set up through the night so that Mr Johnson could deliver the news of his own diagnosis to the nation yesterday morning.
And through the same technology he will continue to remain in close contact with officials and the key members of the Cobra emergency committee – Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Mr Hancock and Mr Sunak.
Tracing the Prime Minister’s social contacts may be a near-impossible task.
There is a vast bureaucracy in and out of Downing Street, and at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons just three days ago, Mr Johnson was seen perilously close to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes.
If the infections at Downing Street worsen – and there is every fear that they will – there is a huge supply of ready meals and other products in the PM’s fridge.
Boris Johnson pictured conducting his weekly audience with the Queen via telephone on March 25. He has now self isolated in No11 Downing Street
Carrie Symonds pictured with the couple’s dog Dilyn arriving at a count in Uxbridge, west London, during the UK’s general election in December
Pictured above is No10 and No11 Downing Street. The doors between the two have been shut
Mr Johnson’s usual diet of spicy sausages, cheese and red wine, has been supplemented by large quantities of vegan food. The company All Plants has been providing boxes of vegan meals and other vegetables.
Yet the frustration for our energetic PM will not be hunger but confinement – and anxiety over Carrie and the welfare of their unborn child.
The PMs laid low in Number 10
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson self-isolates after testing positive for Covid-19, he can take some comfort from the long list of previous PMs who have fallen victim to disease in office while grappling with equally grave crises – as historian NIGEL JONES explains.
David Lloyd George – Spanish flu
In 1918, while Europe was struggling in the closing months of World War One, Prime Minister David Lloyd George suddenly succumbed to the ‘Spanish’ flu pandemic which killed up to 50 million people worldwide.
The Liberal leader of the wartime coalition government was 55 – the same age as Boris Johnson today. News of the ‘Welsh wizard’s’ illness was kept from the public, even though he was unable to leave Manchester City Hall where he was being treated, for 12 days.
Winston Churchill was stuck in Downing Street twice due to pneumonia
Winston Churchill – pneumonia and stroke
Britain’s other great wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was felled by pneumonia at the height of World War Two. He was struck down twice – in 1943 and again in 1944. Once more, news of his illnesses was kept secret.
After being ousted in 1945, Churchill was returned to office in 1951 at the age of 77. But the old warrior was by now beset by hardening arteries, and suffered a series of cardio-vascular episodes, culminating in a major stroke in June 1953, but he remained in office for two more years
Anthony Eden – damaged bile duct
During an abdominal operation in 1953, the surgeon’s scalpel had nicked Anthony Eden’s bile duct. Undetected, bile leaked into his body, leading to his addiction to barbiturate pills. The drugs warped the new PM’s judgement and hugely contributed to his disastrous decision to invade Egypt in the 1956 Suez crisis.
Harold MacMillan – prostate problems
Harold Wilson struggled with Alzheimer’s during his last months in power
Eden was succeeded in No 10 by his Chancellor Harold MacMillan, whose Premiership also ended in a crisis caused by ill health. In 1963, ‘Supermac’ went into hospital for urgent surgery on his prostate gland. The 69-year-old Premier assumed that he was suffering from prostate cancer and immediately resigned.
Harold Wilson – Alzheimer’s
Unexpectedly returned to office in 1974, Wilson became aware that his powers of debate and concentration were failing, and he resigned in March 1976. Shortly afterwards Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed.
Nigel Jones is author of Peace & War: Britain in 1914 (Head of Zeus, 2014)
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