Weeks after virus scare, British PM becomes father again

Johnson has been publicly dating Symonds since early 2019. (POOL/AFP/File / Jeremy Selwyn)

LONDON, UK (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday became a father again when his partner Carrie Symonds gave birth to a healthy baby boy, just weeks after he himself was hospitalised with coronavirus.

The news came as a surprise, as Symonds, 32, was not thought to be due for several weeks, but both she and the baby were said to be doing “very well”.

Messages of congratulations poured in from across the political spectrum for the couple, who have in recent weeks been confronted with the realities of the global coronavirus outbreak up close.

Johnson, 55, only returned to work on Monday after being hospitalised with COVID-19, including three nights in intensive care during which he later said “things could have gone either way”.

Symonds, a former head of communications for the Conservative party, also reported having symptoms of the virus, although she recovered at home.

“The prime minister and Ms Symonds are thrilled to announce the birth of a healthy baby boy at a London hospital earlier this morning,” a spokesman for the couple said.

“Both mother and baby are doing very well.”

Johnson is reported to have attended the birth at an unnamed state-run National Health Service (NHS) hospital in London.

The prime minister has at least five other children, including four with his second wife, Marina Wheeler, from whom he split in 2018.

He also had a daughter as a result of an extra-marital affair while he was mayor of London, according to a 2013 court case.

Johnson and Symonds, who announced in February that they were engaged, last year became the first unmarried couple to live in Downing Street.

However, the new baby will not be the first — former prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron both became fathers while in office.

– ‘Some good news’ –

Johnson is the most high-profile world leader to contract COVID-19, and Britain is among the worst hit countries in the global pandemic, with more than 21,000 deaths so far.

But that figure was expected to rise further, as the government begins reporting both deaths in hospital and the wider community, particularly care homes.

The prime minister, who is under pressure to ease lockdown restrictions, spent two weeks recovering from coronavirus at his countryside retreat of Chequers, before returning to work on Monday.

There had been some speculation about his health after aides refused to say if he would attend the weekly prime minister’s questions in parliament on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who deputised for Johnson during his illness, is now expected to step in.

The speaker of the lower House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, was among the first to congratulate the new parents.

“Such happy news amid so much uncertainty — 2020 is certainly a year they will never forget,” he said.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak, who has an office next door to Johnson, said it was “great to hear Downing Street is getting a new resident”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sent her congratulations and good wishes to the couple and “the wee one”, tweeting: “Some good news.”

– Environmental campaigner –

Symonds worked on Johnson’s re-election campaign when he was mayor of London, and later rose to become communications chief at the Conservatives.

She left to work for an ocean conservation charity, and uses her Twitter account to speak out against animal cruelty and plastic pollution.

Since the couple began publicly dating in early 2019, she has kept a low profile.

There was a brief controversy when, during Johnson’s campaign for the Conservative leadership last year, police were called to the couple’s south London home after alleged reports of a loud argument.

She moved into Downing Street when he took office in July, but kept out of the campaign for the December general election, in which Johnson secured the Conservatives’ best result since the 1980s.

In February the couple announced they were engaged and were expecting a baby “in the early summer”.