UPDATED WITH QUOTES FROM PM'S ADVISOR CUMMINGS AND OTHERS, BACKGROUND
By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal and Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) – The British government is under fire from opposition parties demanding a top adviser resign after reports that he flouted official directives weeks ago during the coronavirus lockdown and traveled hundreds of miles after developing symptoms.
Local media reported that Dominic Cummings, chief aide to Premier Boris Johnson, visited his parents in Durham, north England around six weeks ago when he had the symptoms and should have self-isolated for two weeks in line with the official government advice.
Cummings travelled with his wife to Durham while she was also unwell, according to reports by The Guardian and The Mirror.
People should not visit family members “who do not live in your home” unless they need specific help such as “having shopping or medication dropped off,” according to the government lockdown rules in place since late March.
Durham police spoke to Cummings’ family to remind them of the lockdown rules after receiving reports on March 31 that he was in the city shortly after developing symptoms and supposed to be in self-isolation.
“On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city,” a spokesperson from the Durham Constabulary said.
“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house,” the spokesperson added.
“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”
Neil Ferguson, a leading British scientist whose modeling made the case for the lockdown, quit the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) when it was revealed he had a woman over to his home twice, breaking social distancing rules.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the time that he was “speechless,” and that “I think he took the right decision to resign.”
Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood also quit after it was reported that she made two trips to her second home during the lockdown despite her own advice that the public should avoid all non-essential travel.
The BBC reported that a “small number of people in No 10 [the Prime Ministry] knew that Cummings had gone to Durham.”
The Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford told the BBC: “Members of Downing Street knew about this so, first and foremost, Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer over what now appears to be a cover-up.”
“The lockdown rules were very clear,” a statement by Labour said. “However, the prime minister’s chief adviser appears to believe that it is one rule for him and another for the British people.”
“This will cause understandable anger for the millions of people who have sacrificed so much during this crisis.
“Number 10’s statement also raises more questions than it answers. We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the prime minister and whether Number 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from Durham Police.”
Susan Michie of University College London, a member of the Sage advisory group, tweeted about the controversy: “Trust in Government is key to maintaining adherence to Government #COVIDー19 advice and perceived fairness is key to trust.”
The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru also called on Cummings to go.
The hashtags #sackDominic and #resign have been trending on Twitter as many members of the public also demanded answers.
- ‘Who cares?’
Downing Street on Saturday called Cummings’ action “essential” due to his and his wife’s circumstances.
“Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”
Government ministers came out in force to defend Johnson’s powerful special adviser.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak tweeted: “Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with Coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicize it should take a long hard look in the mirror.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “I know how ill coronavirus makes you. It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill.”
Asked outside his London home whether he thought his actions looked bad, Cummings said: “Who cares about good looks?”
“It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think,” he said.
He then took newspaper photographers to task for not practicing social distancing or staying two meters apart from each other.