Dominating headlines in the UK this bank holiday weekend was the revelation that Dominic Cummings, chief advisor to PM Boris Johnson, had taken a 260-mile trip while his wife was displaying coronavirus symptoms.
Fellow politicians and journalists, as well as much of the public, were incensed by what appeared to be an overt breach of the country’s lockdown policy, with numerous calls for his resignation.
Cummings appeared on TV on Monday afternoon to address the controversy, making a staunch defense of his actions as “reasonable”, claims that were subsequently backed up by his boss Johnson. A total of 3.7 million viewers tuned in to BBC One for the statement, according to the BBC Live Political Programmes’s editor Rob Burley on Twitter.
Looking to clarify events, the government aide stated that on March 27 he visited his wife, who was experiencing coronavirus symptoms, but then returned to work. This itself appears to be a breach of UK lockdown policy, which despite the recent relaxing of the restrictions still states: “If you are showing coronavirus symptoms, or if you or any of your household are self-isolating, you should stay at home – this is critical to staying safe and saving lives.”
Cummings said he then drove from London to County Durham to stay at his parent’s farm that evening, a trip of 260+ miles. He then developed symptoms himself on March 28, as did his son who spent a night in hospital. A couple of weeks later, they took a trip to visit a local castle, a 30-minute drive, which the aide claimed was to test his eyesight to see if he could drive back to London.
“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings told reporters. “I don’t think I am so different and that there is one rule for me and one rule for other people.”
Many disagree with that assessment, however, and on Tuesday Tory junior minister Douglas Ross resigned over the scandal.
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government,” Ross stated. ”I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”
Despite the loud calls for Cummings to resign, he continues to be backed by PM Johnson and other senior Conservative party figures including Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who on Tuesday claimed the aide “didn’t break the guidelines.”
The UK is planning to further relax its lockdown in the coming weeks, with non-essential shops now given the green light to re-open from June 15, with social distancing and hygiene measures in place. Cinemas are still aiming for early July, while plans continue to be drawn up for a return to film and TV production.