In private conversations, senior aides, ministers and officials have raised concerns that a trail of errors exposed the prime minister to critical risk. It’s left the U.K. without a functioning leader to face its gravest peacetime threat, with the death toll nearing 8,000 and his deputy trying to convince people he has the power to act…

A few weeks ago, Britain felt like a different world. On March 3, after Italy was recording its first deaths, Johnson boasted that he had been “shaking hands continuously,” including with “everybody” he met on a tour of a hospital treating patients with Covid-19.

Then on March 7, Johnson and his pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, went to Twickenham stadium to watch England play Wales at rugby, where they smiled and shook hands with members of the crowd.

For the next two weeks life carried on almost as normal inside Downing Street, despite the government urging the public to take precautions, and while other countries imposed lockdowns as the pandemic spread. Even after he announced the first U.K.-wide social distancing policies—on March 16—Johnson held daily press conferences in the State Dining Room.