Boris Johnson will be back at work in Downing Street on Monday and is “raring to go” in the battle against coronavirus, he has told cabinet colleagues.
Just over a fortnight after leaving hospital on Easter Sunday following treatment for COVID-19, the prime minister will be “back to his normal schedule” as he grapples with the dilemma of when to ease the lockdown.
Depending on doctors’ advice, Mr Johnson, who has been recuperating at Chequers, may host Monday’s daily Downing Street news conference and possibly take on the new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
“He is ‘raring to go’ and will be back Monday,” a Downing Street source told Sky News.
“He had a Chequers meeting with advisers on Friday and he will be meeting the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and getting back to his normal schedule.”
The source added: “Mr Johnson was updated on the progress being made in the UK’s fight against coronavirus and was given a detailed briefing on the policy work carried out so far on the next phase of our fight against the disease.
“The summit marked a tightening of grip from the prime minister, who held a series of calls and Zoom meetings with key figures throughout the week.
“Mr Johnson hosted a daily video call with the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, and his Number 10 team at 3pm each day, where he was briefed on the latest plans.
“He also held lengthy discussions with the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, and the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.”
Mr Johnson’s remarkably swift return to his full schedule will delight cabinet ministers and Tory MPs who fear there has been a power vacuum at the heart of government during his absence battling against his illness.
There have been claims that in his absence there has been no clear strategy on when and how to ease the lockdown restrictions and suggestions that cabinet ministers are deeply split on what to do next.
But the PM’s early comeback will alarm those who have been arguing that he needs a long period of rest before plunging back into the gruelling regime of running the government during a major national and international crisis.
There have been signs during the past week, however, that he was making a speedy recovery. He spoke by telephone with President Donald Trump, who said afterwards: “He called me a few days ago. He sounded incredible.”
The prime minister also held his first audience with the Queen for three weeks, suggesting he was regaining full fitness and ready to return to work full time.
Mr Johnson’s planned return to work was revealed less than a fortnight after he was discharged from St Thomas’s Hospital, under a mile from Downing Street, after seven nights, three of which were spent in intensive care.
It has been a tumultuous and dramatic six weeks, even by Mr Johnson’s standards, and has seen him – in his own words – come close to death.
Last month, the prime minister seemed relaxed about the possibility of being infected with coronavirus, leading critics – and some colleagues – to warn that he was not taking the threat of the disease seriously enough.
On 3 March, he said at a Downing Street news conference: “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.”
But on 27 March he announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Downing Street said he had noticed mild symptoms the previous afternoon and received the test results at midnight.
In a video message on Twitter, Mr Johnson said: “I’m working from home and self-isolating and that’s entirely the right thing to do.
“But, be in no doubt that I can continue thanks to the wizardry of modern technology to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”
Questions were raised about why the PM had adopted a business-as-usual approach to governing after putting the rest of the UK on lockdown and Mr Johnson was accused of not following his own advice.
The following Thursday, 2 April, Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak appeared on the steps of 10 Downing Street joining in with a national applause for the NHS, with the PM telling those gathered: “I am not allowed out really, I am just standing here.”
Then the next day, 3 April, looking seriously unwell, Mr Johnson was seen in a video urging people to stay home and not break social distancing rules as the weather warmed up, even if they were going “a bit stir crazy”.
Shortly after the PM’s announcement of his illness on 27 March, Mr Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds – who lives with him in the No 11 flat – shared a photograph of herself self-isolating in Camberwell, south London, with the couple’s dog Dilyn.
Then on 4 April, Ms Symonds tweeted: “I’ve spent the past week in bed with the main symptoms of coronavirus. I haven’t needed to be tested and, after seven days of rest, I feel stronger and I’m on the mend.”
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It was on Sunday 5 April that Downing Street said Mr Johnson had been admitted to “a London NHS hospital” for tests as a “precautionary step” as his coronavirus symptoms persisted.
The next morning, Mr Johnson tweeted: “Last night, on the advice of my doctor, I went into hospital for some routine tests as I’m still experiencing coronavirus symptoms. I’m in good spirits and keeping in touch with my team, as we work together to fight this virus and keep everyone safe.
“I’d like to say thank you to all the brilliant NHS staff taking care of me and others in this difficult time. You are the best of Britain.
“Stay safe everyone, and please remember to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Then that evening, Monday April 6, Downing Street announced the shock news that the PM’s condition had worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he had been moved to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’s Hospital.
Downing Street said the PM’s condition was stable and he was in “good spirits” following his first night in intensive care, but he would need to remain there for “close monitoring”.
At that time, concerns were raised over how many decisions his stand-in Mr Raab was allowed to make, as the foreign secretary suggested that the scheduled review of the nation’s lockdown restrictions would now not go ahead.
Downing Street later confirmed the review would take place after the three-week mark originally committed to by the PM.
After a second night in intensive care, the prime minister was said to be “responding to treatment” and remained in a stable condition.
On 8 April, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the daily coronavirus briefing that Mr Johnson was still in intensive care, but had been sitting up in bed and engaging with his clinical team.
And after he spent a “good night” in intensive care, Downing Street said the prime minister’s condition was continuing to improve.
At the daily coronavirus press briefing the next day, 9 April, Mr Raab, who earlier chaired a meeting of the Cobra committee, prompted more concerns when he said he had not spoken to the PM since taking over his responsibilities.
“We in the government have got this covered,” Mr Raab said, adding: “I’ve got all the authority I need to make the relevant decisions – whether it’s through chairing cabinet updates, chairing Cobra, or indeed the morning meetings of senior ministers.”
Later that day after three nights in intensive care, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had been moved back to the ward at St Thomas’s.
On Easter Saturday, Downing Street said the PM was continuing to recover in hospital and he was now able to do “short walks” between rests, but did not confirm how long Mr Johnson was expected to remain in hospital.
On Easter Sunday, Downing Street said the PM was continuing “to make very good progress”. Mr Johnson thanked NHS staff at St Thomas’s for saving his life, issuing a short statement, saying: “I can’t thank them enough. I owe them my life.”
Later, Downing Street said he had been discharged from hospital and would continue his recovery at Chequers. Number 10 also said the PM would be taking a break from work while he recovered.
A relieved Ms Symonds said she could not “thank our magnificent NHS enough”, adding there had been times in the past week that had been “very dark indeed”.