‘Virus is no respecter of individuals... we are all at risk,’ Michael Gove says

The government is facing questions over its ability to manage the coronavirus crisis at the highest level after the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary both tested positive for the illness and the Chief Medical Officer went into isolation with symptoms.

Boris Johnson said he had “mild symptoms” and was continuing to lead the fight against Covid-19 after isolating himself in his Downing Street flat.

But there were fears that the coronavirus could be spreading out of control at the top levels of government after Matt Hancock revealed he has also tested positive, and Professor Chris Whitty said he would self-isolate.Mr Johnson began to feel unwell with a cough and fever on Thursday afternoon, and was tested on the advice of Prof Whitty. He received the results at around midnight - after joining a nationwide round of applause for the NHS outside Number 10 with the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

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Mr Sunak was working at home yesterday, but was not experiencing symptoms and was not self-isolating.

Boris Johnso and Matt Hancock have tested positive while Chris Whitty has experienced symptoms
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Announcing his diagnosis in a video message posted to Twitter, the Prime Minister said: “I’m working from home and self-isolating and that’s entirely the right thing to do.

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“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.

“I want to thank everybody involved and, of course, our amazing NHS staff.”

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Later on Thursday, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Fortunately for me the symptoms so far have been very mild so I’ve been able to carry on with the work driving forward the UK response.”

Much government business is already being carried out remotely, with this week’s cabinet meeting taking place via the video conferencing platform Zoom.

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But Mr Johnson, the Health Secretary and Prof Whitty all gathered in Downing Street for the meeting, along with the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill.

The Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer also took part in a press conference on Wednesday, alongside the Chief Scientific Adviser for England, Sir Patrick Vallance.

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Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said measures were being taken to ensure the illness does not spread further in government.

But the spokesman added that Number 10 remains a functioning workplace, and staff can continue working while following social distancing guidelines, until they begin showing symptoms.

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‘We are all at risk’

Standing in for the Prime Minister at the daily press conference on the coronavirus response, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the fact Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock had both tested positive shows that the “virus does not

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discriminate”, adding: “We are all at risk.”

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster insisted the government was taking social distancing guidelines seriously

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“The fact that the virus is no respecter of individuals, whoever they are, is one of the reasons why we do need to have strict social distancing measures so that we can reduce the rate of infection and reduce the pressure on the NHS,” he said.

“It is important in order... to try to ensure that as we slow the spread of the virus that everyone, everyone, wherever possible, practises the appropriate social distancing disciplines that we’ve announced earlier.”

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Explaining the Prime Minister’s public appearance on Thursday night despite knowing he had coronavirus symptoms, the Number 10 spokesman said: “He did really want to take part in clapping NHS staff, he felt it was important... he ensured he didn’t come into any close contact with anyone.”

Mr Gove said people leading the Government’s response to coronavirus are tested if they show symptoms.

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“People are tested if they are symptomatic and those members of the sort of central effort in helping to defeat the virus who do show symptoms are appropriately tested.

“I think you can tell from the fact that the three of us are here demonstrates that there are three of us who have not yet demonstrated any symptoms.”

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The Prime Minister’s diagnosis follows news that Prince Charles had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating at his private home on the Balmoral estate, in Aberdeenshire.

Clarence House posted a video on Instagram showing the Prince of Wales joining in with the round of applause for the NHS from Birkhall.

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Mr Johnson’s weekly audience with the Queen has taken place over the phone for two weeks, and Buckingham Palace said they last met in person on 11 March.

Labour deputy leadership candidate Angela Rayner announced on Twitter that she is self-isolating after suffering symptoms, as is Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England.



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