Morning Brief

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Moved to Intensive Care

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will step in for the prime minister while he is incapacitated, but it’s not known how long Johnson’s hospital stay will be.

Police officers stand in front of barriers erected outside St Thomas' Hospital in London, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care, on April 6, 2020. .
Police officers stand in front of barriers erected outside St Thomas' Hospital in London, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care, on April 6, 2020. . Tolga AKMEN / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is moved to an intensive care unit with coronavirus symptoms, the U.S. health inspector general warns of  “widespread” shortages, and the U.S. State Department designates anRussian white supremacist organization as a terrorist group.

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From “Good Spirits” to the ICU: Johnson’s Condition Worsens

After a day of insisting that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in “good spirits” following his admission to hospital for “persistent” coronavirus symptoms, the British government was forced to acknowledge the deteriorating health of its leader.

At 8 p.m. in London, Downing Street announced that Johnson had been moved to an intensive care unit that evening, with the possibility of being placed on a ventilator if his condition grows more serious. On Tuesday morning, hospital officials confirmed that the prime minister had not yet been placed on a ventilator but had consumed four liters of oxygen.

Who’s in charge? As wishes for a speedy recovery pour in from world leaders—U.S. President Donald Trump said “Americans are all praying for his recovery”— the question now turns to who will run the U.K. government in Johnson’s absence. Unlike previous cabinets, there is no designated deputy prime minister. In the short term, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will take on the role.

While Johnson recovers, the U.K. is likely to enter the peak of its coronavirus epidemic, with almost 52,000 cases already recorded. On April 15, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to release a review of existing lockdown measures, with an extension likely.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Owen Matthews reports on the significance of Johnson’s illness, “In the hospital with acute coronavirus on the eve of a predicted surge in hospitalizations, Johnson has unwittingly become a one-man bellwether for the effectiveness of his government’s response to the virus.”

Has the U.K. had to carry on without a prime minister before? The country came close in 1953, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill suffered a stroke. However, his likely successor, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, was undergoing surgery at the time and unable to step in. Churchill instead carried on his duties and recovered.

Johnson is 55, how great a risk does he face? A study by the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the death rate among 50-somethings was 0.37 percent. For those over 80 it is much higher, at 10.4 percent. Deaths from COVID-19 are not only dependent on age, but by underlying medical conditions that the disease can exacerbate.

What We’re Following Today

Inspector General’s U.S. hospital warning. U.S. hospitals are facing a “severe” and “widespread” shortage of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment and ventilators, according to a survey of 323 hospitals published by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services. The hospitals also face “substantial challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19,” according to the report’s findings. When asked about the inspector general’s report at the White House press briefing, President Trump deflected, “Give me the name of the inspector general. Could politics be entered into that?” Trump said. The report’s author, Christi A. Grimm, was appointed to her role in January.

White supremacists named terrorist group. The U.S. State Department has designated the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) as a terrorist organization, the first time a white supremacist group has been labeled as such by the State Department. The designation extends to three of the group’s leaders, allowing the Justice Department to pursue terrorism charges against anyone conducting financial transactions with the group. Although the State Department cited attacks in Sweden as a basis for the designation, it’s not known how extensive RIM’s reach is in the United States.

Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer provide a deeper look at why the State Department it taking this step while Daniel Byman argues in FP that the move is significant precisely because “The president himself has shown a disturbing sympathy toward white nationalists and an equally disturbing complaisance with regard to Russian meddling in Western politics. Targeting RIM is a step in the right direction on both issues.”

Navy coronavirus dispute escalates. Acting Secretary of the U.S. Navy Thomas Modly is facing calls for his resignation from Democratic lawmakers after an audio recording emerged of a speech he gave to the sailors of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, whose captain, Brett Crozier, had been relieved of command after a letter he wrote highlighting deteriorating conditions on board following a coronavirus outbreak was leaked to the media. Crozier has since been diagnosed with the coronavirus, along with at least 150 of the ship’s crew.

In the recording, Modly is heard calling Crozier either “too naïve, or too stupid” to think his letter would not appear in the press. Modly also chastised the ship’s crew for applauding Crozier as he left the ship for the final time. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him,” Modly said, “But you’re not required to love him.”

“I stand by every word I said,” Modly said in a statement after the recording surfaced. Late last night, Modly apologized to Crozier and the crew of the carrier “for any pain my remarks have caused.”

Keep an Eye On

Italy testing for immunity. The Italian region of Veneto will begin testing health workers for signs of immunity from the coronavirus as it continues to fight the epidemic. Around 3,000 health workers will be tested as part of the program, with the end goal of giving a “license” to those who show immunity so they can return to work.

Austria to reopen gradually. Austria is planning to loosen some of its coronavirus restrictions by opening some nonessential businesses from April 14. Shops of 4,300 square feet or less will be allowed to open, with a broader reopening of all shops on May 1. Hotels and restaurants are expected to wait longer to reopen. Although bordering Italy, Austria has so far been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, with just over 12,000 cases recorded and 220 deaths.

Renewable energy capacity increases. Over a third of the world’s power now comes from renewable sources—a record, according to new data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Included in the data is another record: almost three-quarters of new electricity capacity brought online in 2019 came from renewable sources. IRENA had some caveats to this positive news, the number of coal and gas-fired plants in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa is up on the previous year.

Odds and Ends

New Zealand is not about to relax its lockdown restrictions, but has clarified its stance on two seasonal workers who will be allowed to continue during the crisis. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has named the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy as “essential workers,” reassuring children that both beings would continue normal service during the pandemic. In a nod to stressed-out parents, Ardern provided some wiggle room, “If the Easter Bunny doesn’t make it to your household, we have to understand that it’s a bit difficult at the moment perhaps for the bunny to get everywhere,” she said.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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