The emergency hospitalisation of a prime minister is a challenge for any government. For a relatively new and inexperienced administration struggling to manage a global pandemic, it constitutes an extremely grave situation. No UK government for decades has dealt with a lengthy, unplanned absence of its leader — let alone in the glare of 24-hour media scrutiny.

It is a blow to national morale that Boris Johnson had seen as his personal duty to maintain. The public will be seeking rapid reassurance that the government can grapple effectively with the outbreak and the dilemmas it poses. The prime minister’s absence comes, moreover, as the government is under fire for failures to provide equipment such as ventilators and protective gear to the NHS fast enough, and to ramp up crucial virus testing to promised levels.

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