LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he is “fit as a butcher’s dog” and firmly in control of the government, despite having to self-isolate because a contact has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Johnson, who is trying to suppress a new surge in U.K. coronavirus infections, quell turmoil within his Conservative Party and secure a trade deal with the European Union, said in a video message on Twitter that he had no COVID-19 symptoms. He said he would continue to govern using “Zoom and other forms of electronic communication.”
Johnson met with a small group of Conservative lawmakers for about 35 minutes on Thursday. One, Lee Anderson, subsequently developed coronavirus symptoms and tested positive.
Johnson said he was contacted by the national test-and-trace system Sunday and was following its order to self-isolate for 14 days even though he is “bursting with antibodies” after recovering from the virus earlier in the year.
“It doesn’t matter that we were all doing social distancing, it doesn’t matter that I’m fit as a butcher’s dog, feel great — so many people do in my circumstances,” he said.
Johnson said the fact he had been “pinged” by the test-and-trace network was evidence the much-criticized system was working. The system routinely fails to contact more than a third of infected people’s contacts.
Britain has recorded almost 52,000 deaths of people who tested positive for the virus, the highest toll in Europe.
Johnson spent a week in hospital with the coronavirus in April, including three nights in intensive care. He later thanked medics for saving his life when it “could have gone either way.”
Several other government ministers, officials and Downing Street staff also became sick with COVID-19 in the spring, including Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Officials say Downing Street is now a “COVID-secure workplace,” with staff observing social distancing measures and some working from home. But a photo released of Johnson’s meeting with Anderson shows the two did not wear masks and appear to be less than the recommended 2 meters (6 ½ feet) apart.
People who recover from the virus are thought to have a level of immunity, but it’s unclear how long it lasts.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said there have been more than 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reinfection globally, and that the actual reinfection rate is “quite a lot higher than that, but not enormous.”
Johnson had planned a series of meetings and announcements this week intended to reboot his premiership after losing two top aides in messy circumstances.
Chief adviser Dominic Cummings and communications director Lee Cain quit last week amid reports of power struggles inside Downing Street. Cummings and Cain were key players in the 2016 campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and helped Johnson win a decisive election victory in December 2019.
But their combative style toward civil servants, lawmakers and the media made many enemies, and Johnson is likely to use their departure as a chance to rebuild relations.
He was also due to lead meetings to decide the next steps in Britain’s response to the coronavirus. A four-week nationwide lockdown for England is due to end Dec. 2, but it’s unclear whether it will have been enough to curb a surge in infections.
Meanwhile, U.K. and EU negotiators are meeting in Brussels try to seal a last-minute trade deal before Britain makes a financial break from the bloc on Dec. 31. The two sides have said a deal needs to be sealed within days if it is to be ratified by year’s end, but big differences remain on issues including fishing rights and competition rules.
If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel will face tariffs and other barriers to trade starting Jan. 1. That would hurt economies on both sides, with the impact falling most heavily on the U.K., which does almost half of its trade with the 27-nation bloc.
Johnson had also planned this week to lead a televised news conference, announce new environmental policies including a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and meet with restive Conservative lawmakers from northern England, who want to see progress on promises to close the north-south economic divide.
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