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World

British Prime Minister Hospitalized; Queen Makes Rare TV Speech

NOEL KING, HOST:

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus about 10 days ago. He has now been admitted to the hospital. The British government says it's precautionary, and we learned about Johnson last night after the queen gave a rare speech.

NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following all of this. He's just outside of London this morning. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What do we know about how Boris Johnson is doing?

LANGFITT: Well, he's had a high fever and persistent cough, really, pretty much since the diagnosis. He hasn't given a live speech since he was diagnosed, mostly just taped video messages. And I think people have been concerned for quite some time about his condition. He was last seen publicly about four days ago clapping outside his front door for health care workers. The - No. 10 Downing Street is downplaying all this. But there has to be serious concern with any patient that's not getting better from the disease. He was, as you mentioned, spent last night at the hospital and - well, from what we hear, could stay as long as necessary.

KING: So you know, I remember, the day that Boris Johnson was diagnosed, you and I were talking. And...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

KING: ...Boris Johnson said, oh, I'm still working from home. A question this raises now is - is Boris Johnson still in charge of the British government?

LANGFITT: No. 10 Downing Street says, absolutely. But this morning, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and the first secretary of state, will chair the government's COVID-19 meeting. Now, you know, this is a different system than we have in the States. There's no vice president who, under the Constitution, would step in.

But we understand that Johnson has designated Raab as the person to kind of pick up the reins if the prime minister is too sick for the time being. There is talk you see in the press today about whether Johnson should be focusing on his health and let the Cabinet do its job. And of course, it has to be challenging running a government from a hospital bed when you have a fever and also facing this huge, very difficult crisis.

KING: Now, on top of all of this, the queen gave this speech to the nation last night. This is a very rare thing. It was not about...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

KING: ...Boris Johnson, I should say.

LANGFITT: No, not at all.

KING: What was her message?

LANGFITT: It was really interesting, Noel. She was very reassuring. She urged people to continue to self-isolate. But there was a lot about British identity here. She invoked Britain at its finest hour, the battle against the Nazis in World War II. And what she was basically saying is, this new generation is up to this challenge that the country is facing now. This is how she put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: If we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it. I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge and those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.

KING: Kind of extraordinary just to hear her voice there. How was...

LANGFITT: It is.

KING: How was the speech received?

LANGFITT: Very, very well. And I think there were also quite a few tears. The queen, she really knows her job. She's been doing it for more than 60 years.

KING: Yeah.

LANGFITT: And she mentioned that in her first broadcast in 1940, when she was just 14, this was when Britain was under the attack of the Luftwaffe. This is, of course, the Blitz. And she was consoling children at that time that were being evacuated. Now, nearly 80 years later, she is sort of the wise grandmother who's seen it all. And the message was, we've been through this, we can overcome this, and you can do as your parents and grandparents did. And at the end, she said, we will meet again. She was invoking this famous World War II song from that era, which many would remember from the - World War II.

KING: That's really lovely. NPR's Frank Langfitt joining us this morning from just outside of London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.