BOURTON ON THE WATER: A sign reads 'Village Closed' on the side of the road leading into the Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water, central England as life in Britain continues over the Easter break, during the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. - AFP

LONDON: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson was making "very good progress" in his recovery in hospital from coronavirus, officials said, as the country's deaths toll from the disease approached the grim milestone of 10,000. The 55-year-old leader was spending his second full day out of intensive care at London's St Thomas' Hospital, where he has been able to take short walks between periods of rest, according to Downing Street. "The Prime Minister continues to make very good progress," a No 10 spokeswoman said.

News of his improvement contrasted with the latest official statistics showing Britain recorded nearly 1,000 daily COVID-19 deaths for the second consecutive day - one of the worst rates globally. The health ministry announced another 917 coronavirus hospital patients had died in the latest 24-hour period, down from the toll on Friday but still the country's second highest yet. An 11-year-old was among the victims, according to England's National Health Service (NHS).

It brings the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in British hospitals to 9,875, while the number of confirmed cases in the country climbed by 5,234 to 78,991. That is thought to reflect only a fraction of the actual number of people infected because not everyone has been tested for the virus. "The prime minister continues to make good progress, but these stark figures highlight the gravity of this national emergency," interior minister Priti Patel told reporters at a daily briefing.

'Keep others safe'
Despite the sobering statistics, Stephen Powis, NHS England's medical director, said there was a "leveling off" in the number of new cases and "the first signs of a plateauing of people who unfortunately need hospitalization". He credited a nationwide lockdown introduced on March 23 for halting the virus' spread, but added the mortality rate would be "the very final thing" to decrease. "We are confident that if everybody follows the instructions… then that will begin to translate in the next weeks into a reduction in the daily deaths," Powis said.

"I'm afraid this year it has to be for all of us a stay-at-home Easter." Queen Elizabeth II echoed that in what is believed to be her first pre-recorded Easter address, released by Buckingham Palace on Saturday evening. "By keeping apart we keep others safe," the 93-year-old monarch said. "We know that coronavirus will not overcome us." Her resolute comments came a week after a rare televised address to the nation in which she told people to unite to beat COVID-19.

Spirits lifted
Johnson is the most high-profile leader to suffer from the coronavirus, and his hospitalization is unprecedented for a British prime minister during a national emergency in modern times. He was admitted Sunday for a persistent cough and high temperature 10 days after self-isolating with the virus. A day later he was transferred to the intensive care unit as his condition deteriorated.

The Conservative leader left the unit Thursday evening in "extremely good spirits" and waving at staff "in gratitude", his spokesman has said. The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported Johnson's friends had revealed he came close to death while in intensive care and said he owed his life to the hospital's medical team.

It remains unclear when he might be discharged from hospital and how quickly he would return to work once out. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been deputizing for Johnson. The prime minister's spokesman stressed Friday that his recovery was "at an early stage" and he would act only "on the advice of his medical team". The Sun tabloid reported that Johnson's spirits had been lifted this week by his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who sent him "love letters" and scans of their unborn child.

Symonds, who has also suffered from coronavirus symptoms in recent weeks, and the British leader have reportedly not seen each other for nearly a month. Their baby is due this summer. Meanwhile, it is also uncertain when Britain might be able to lift the stringent social distancing regime. Implemented for an initial three weeks, the measures are set for a formal review next week and likely to remain in place until at least the end of the month.- AFP