The United Kingdom's response to the coronavirus pandemic was compromised on Friday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his top health minister tested positive for the virus, and his chief health consultant underwent self-quarantine after showing symptoms.
Britain's Prime Minister has been a defiant arbitrator among Western heads of state for weeks in refusing to lock down his country against the pandemic. He became the first of those leaders to have been infected with the illness on Friday.
England's Secretary of Health, Matt Hancock, disclosed he had not tested positive while England's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Chris Whitty, showed indications.
In a video statement on his Twitter account, Johnson said he has developed mild coronavirus symptoms like persistent cough. On the recommendation of his chief medical officer, he said he has tested positive. "So I am working from home and isolating myself, and that's the right thing to do."
The developments raised the issue of how many officials who led Europe's campaign against the virus have been exposed to it themselves. Downing Lane, the center of power in the United Kingdom, is a labyrinth of crowded offices and narrow corridors, making it almost impossible for those working there to follow the advice of the government.
The diagnosis of Johnson threatened to throw into chaos an increasingly shaken British government. Fears of a broader contagion increased when two other senior officials announced they had been contaminated as well.
And with Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, announcing this week that he had become ill with the virus, Britain confronted the troubling possibility of having to tackle the greatest crisis since World War II with some of its leading quarantine figures.
However, if the prime minister is too sick to work it was decided that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would take over until he recovers. Johnson thanked everyone in the UK who are putting in efforts to help in emergency response, emphasizing the way to get through the crisis was by following government guidelines to stay home.
The infection also raises questions about Johnson's fiancee, pregnant Carrie Symonds, and the multitude of other Downing Street officials and advisors who work in close quarters.
Several world leaders, including Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canada's Premier Justin Trudeau, have in recent days positioned themselves in isolation as a precaution. Yet no Western nation has seen the virus challenge the entire political system as easily as it did last week in Britain.