U.K. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 early in the pandemic


Leon Neal/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is not the first world leader to reveal they have tested positive for coronavirus and he may not be the last. 

A small number of world leaders have contracted COVID-19, impacting their health and their country’s response to the pandemic to varying degrees. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the first, requiring intensive care treatment in April and leaving him out of action for a month.

He later revealed doctors were at one point preparing to announce his death and thanked them for saving his life. Johnson has since dismissed claims he will quit in six months due to ‘COVID fatigue’ as absolute nonsense.

Johnson’s brush with death seemed to coincide with a shift in public attitudes to the virus, with an international study in May showing Brits feared COVID-19 more than any other country.  

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been criticized for playing down the virus, tested positive on Jul. 7 after developing symptoms. Following several weeks in quarantine, Bolsonaro tested negative after a fourth test on Jul.25.

A few days later Bolsonaro revealed he was taking antibiotics as the infection had left him feeling weak and with “mould” on his lungs. Brazil’s leader has since recovered, and despite rising cases and death his approval rating last week was the highest since taking office.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was hospitalized in June after a positive test, before being released 16 days later. On his release he tweeted: “My commitment with Honduras is stronger than ever. Let’s get to work! Who said fear?”

Although neither contracted the virus, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to self-isolate in March after his wife contracted the virus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel quarantined in March after her doctor was diagnosed.

The situation in the U.S., so close to an election and with it being unclear whether Trump has symptoms, is markedly different from that following Johnson’s positive test. However, there may be parallels to be drawn, particularly with Johnson’s early isolation, the impact on his engagements and running of the country, as well as the potential public reaction.

Boris Johnson timeline

March 27

The U.K. prime minister tested positive for the virus early on in the pandemic on Mar. 27, along with the country’s health secretary Matt Hancock, complicating the government’s response to the crisis. Johnson, who had met Queen Elizabeth II just over two weeks previously, said he had “mild symptoms” and self-isolated immediately in Downing Street and began working from home. The 55-year-old continued to lead the country via video calls and regular public video messages. 

April 5

While many recover quickly from COVID-19, Johnson’s symptoms worsened and he was admitted to a London hospital 10 days after his diagnosis. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was designated to take over if Johnson became incapacitated, began leading the response from Apr. 6.

April 7

The prime minister was moved into intensive care two days later on the advice of his medical team, as well-wishes poured in from world leaders and U.K. politicians. The pound slumped in reaction, as Johnson’s health sparked concern across the country. After three days in intensive care, he was moved back into the main hospital wards, before being released on Apr. 12.

April 27

One month after announcing his positive test, Johnson returned to work and set about taking control of the crisis and planning the country’s reopening.

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