The British government declined Tuesday to say who had responsibility for the United Kingdom's nuclear codes while Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being treated in intensive care with COVID-19.
When asked by the BBC if Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had been handed the nuclear codes while Johnson received treatment, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said: "There are well-developed protocols which are in place."
"I just really cannot talk about national security issues," Gove said.
The United Kingdom is one of the world's five official nuclear-armed states and has four nuclear submarines armed with Trident II D5 ballistic missiles loaded with nuclear warheads. The United Kingdom has a stockpile of about 215 nuclear warheads, though about 120 are operationally available.
Only the British prime minister can authorize a nuclear strike. Such an order, if enacted, would be transmitted to one of Britain's nuclear submarines with a special set of codes.
In relation to national security matters, Foreign Minister Raab and the cabinet have the ability to respond in Johnson’s absence, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
“FM Raab cannot hire and fire ministers while he is deputizing,” he added.
“Foreign Minister Raab is feeling fine,” he stated, adding that Finance Minister Rishi Sunak will assume responsibilities if Raab is incapacitated.
Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have been confirmed infected and over 75,000 have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The true numbers are certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments.
Deaths in the U.S. neared 11,000, with more than 368,000 confirmed infections, while cases in Africa reached over 10,000.
For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. More than 285,000 people have recovered worldwide