LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from the hospital Sunday, a major step forward in his recovery from the coronavirus and a welcome relief for a nation whose political leadership has been harder hit by the contagion than that of any other Western country.
Johnson, who spent three nights in intensive care at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, will convalesce for some time at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house, the government said in a statement. But he will soon be able to sign off on major decisions, including when to ease the country’s lockdown.
In an emotional five-minute video, Johnson thanked the country’s National Health Service, declaring it had “saved my life, no question.”
Wearing a suit and tie, but looking and sounding fatigued, Johnson singled out two nurses from New Zealand and Portugal who, he said, had kept a vigil over him “when things could have gone either way.”
“The reason in the end my body did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night they were watching and they were thinking and they were caring and making the interventions I needed,” Johnson said.
As he did when he first announced he had contracted the virus two weeks ago, the prime minister sought to draw a broader lesson from his own ordeal — in this case, that the country’s strict lockdown was enabling the National Health Service to perform as heroically for all Britons as it had for him.
Johnson said nothing about his own plans for recuperation, but Downing Street said in a statement, “On the advice of his medical team, the PM will not be immediately returning to work.”
Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, had been deputized by Johnson to carry out his duties during his illness, a role Raab is likely to play somewhat longer. The absence of a formal succession plan had raised questions about who would take charge if the prime minister died or was incapacitated for an extended period.
Now, those fears have subsided, though it may still be weeks before Johnson retakes his place at the center of British politics. Full recovery from a serious case of the virus is lengthy and arduous, medical specialists say, and Johnson’s family has warned that he should not return to work too soon.
“He has to take time,” his father, Stanley Johnson, told BBC Radio on Friday. “I cannot believe you can walk away from this and get straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”
Britain is still in a desperate phase of its battle with the pandemic. The death toll topped 10,000 Sunday, and specialists warned that the peak of the outbreak was still to come. Hospitals, though badly stretched and suffering an acute shortage of protective gear, have coped with the surge of patients.
The prime minister said on March 27 that he had tested positive for the virus, but continued to work, taking part in daily meetings about the pandemic by video while in isolation in his apartment next door to No. 10 Downing St.
Officials initially said they expected him to come out of isolation after a week. But Johnson continued to suffer a cough and high temperature, and his condition worsened until the evening of April 5, when he was moved to St. Thomas’, across the River Thames from Parliament.
His hospitalization was announced about an hour after a rare address to the nation by Queen Elizabeth II, a juxtaposition that left many in the country unsettled.
The government offered reassuring, if unrevealing, updates about Johnson, who was described as being in “good spirits.” But top officials, including Raab, conceded that they had not spoken to the prime minister since before he was admitted to the hospital, sowing doubts about his condition.
“There were times last week that were very dark indeed,” Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, said on Twitter on Sunday after his release. “My heart goes out to all those in similar situations, worried sick about their loved ones.”
Symonds, 32, is herself recovering from symptoms of the virus. She is pregnant, and the couple have announced plans to get married.