London (AFP) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent the night in intensive care after being admitted with a deteriorating case of coronavirus, prompting serious concerns on Tuesday about his health and the government's response to a still-escalating outbreak.
Johnson asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputise for him shortly before he was moved to the intensive care unit of a London hospital on Monday evening.
He had already spent a night in hospital after being admitted for tests on Sunday amid concerns that, 10 days since being diagnosed with COVID-19, he still had persistent symptoms including a cough and high temperature.
The 55-year-old is the most high-profile world leader to become infected with coronavirus, and his transfer to intensive care is unprecedented for a prime minister during a national emergency.
Messages of support for Johnson flooded in from across Britain and the world.
- 'Work goes on' -
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday that the prime minister had been given "some oxygen support" but "he has not been on a ventilator" -- although one is available if he needs it.
In a round of broadcast interviews, Gove insisted the "work of government goes on".
Raab was due to chair the daily coronavirus meeting in the prime minister's place on Tuesday.
But Britain does not have a formal constitutional role of deputy prime minister, and it is not clear that Raab himself has the power to take big decisions if required.
The government has already introduced tough measures to try to stem the spread of the disease that has killed more than 5,000 people in Britain, but these must be reviewed next week.
London stocks jumped three percent at the opening on Tuesday despite Johnson's condition.
US President Donald Trump sent his "best wishes to a very good friend of mine", while European leaders and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged him to recover swiftly.
- 'Extremely sick' -
Johnson announced on March 27 that he had coronavirus, and went into self-isolation into his flat above his Downing Street office.
Officials initially said he had only mild symptoms, and the prime minister himself posted regular videos online, so his admission to hospital on Sunday came as a shock.
Johnson tweeted from his hospital bed on Monday lunchtime, saying he was in "good spirits", and his spokesman said he remained in touch with his team.
But his condition then rapidly went downhill, with Downing Street announcing that he had been moved to intensive care at about 7 pm (1800 GMT) in St Thomas' Hospital.
At the time, he was said to be conscious.
"There is no doubt this turn of events means Boris Johnson is extremely sick," said Derek Hill, Professor of Medical Imaging at University College London (UCL).
James Gill, honorary clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School, added however that admission to intensive care "is not all together uncommon with this disease".
"The prime minister is getting the very best care that the (state-run) National Health Service has to offer."
- Slow to act? -
The British government was criticised for initially refusing to follow other European countries in requiring people to stay home as the virus spread.
Johnson himself said in early March that he was still shaking hands with people.
Two weeks ago he ordered a nationwide lockdown, but the British parliament continued to sit for several days after, and Westminster became a hotspot of coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, have both been infected with coronavirus, although they have since recovered.
Queen Elizabeth II, 93, made a rare public address on Sunday, evoking the spirit of World War II and urging Britons to stay united.
"We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again," she said in a rare televised address watched by 23 million people.
Buckingham Palace said she was being kept informed of developments.
Johnson, who has been prime minister only since July last year, is not known to have any underlying health issues, although he has struggled with his weight.
Some questioned if he should have taken more time off but Gove said he had followed all medical advice, saying his diary had been "stripped back" last week.
Johnson's pregnant partner, Carrie Symonds, moved out of Downing Street after some staff fell ill.
But she said on Saturday she had just spent a week in bed with symptoms, although she has not been tested.