Advising with empathy and experience

Lockdown 'breach' undermines trust.


More than 70 Tory MPs have demanded the resignation of the government’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, after he broke the national lockdown by travelling 264 miles from London to Durham.

While Dominic Cummings denied he had breached  lockdown legislation, claiming his journey was to seek family care for his four-year-old son when both he and his wife suffered coronavirus symptoms, his admission that he made the trip near the end of March was met with public outrage and anger from opposition parties who called on Johnson to sack him.

Even though prime minister, Boris Johnson, supported his chief adviser, police and scientists said that Cumming’ action had undermined the lockdown, making it harder to enforce, and put the public at greater risk from the deadly virus.

The former chief constable of Durham, Mike Barton, who stood down last year, said that  Cummings had clearly broken the lockdown rules.

Mike Barton said: “It’s obvious to anyone this breaks the rules. So it should be especially clear to the people who created them.

Mr Barton said: “Millions of people over the last two months have made great sacrifices looking after their family in really frustrating circumstances and businesses have gone bust.

“And that’s why I was really quite surprised to learn that somebody who has made the rules that are very clear that if you’re suffering from coronavirus, you have to stay at home, you’re in lockdown, you do not leave under any circumstances.

“Not only did they do that and travel 260 miles, but also have then tried to justify it and evade their responsibility through the use of weasel words. I find it quite shocking really.”

Mr Barton added that he was “angry” and “worried” that Durham Constabulary had been embroiled in a dispute with Downing Street and praised the force for its handling of the situation.

Dorset’s police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, said such a high-profile breach of the rules by Cummings would make it more difficult for police to enforce the lockdown.

He said: “Here’s a very high-profile person and the timing of this is very unfortunate because, this is going to be the busiest weekend Dorset has seen this year.”

Brian Booth, West Yorkshire Police Federation Rep, also said enforcement would now become impossible.

He said: “Throughout the lockdown the vast majority of the public have abided by the rules for the greater good. For many it has come at great personal sacrifice. 

“But when they see a senior government aide appearing to breach the lockdown what are they supposed to think?

“It really does undermine what we are trying to achieve. We already have it hard with smart alecs who think they know the law better than us and this just plays into their hands.

“It is not the Government who will be left picking up the pieces from this, but all the frontline officers who are trying to keep the public safe.”

Scientific experts also responded with dismay. Prof Susan Michie, of University College London, a member of Sage, the scientific group that has guided the government’s response to the coronavirus, suggested Cummings’s trip would undermine trust in the official advice on the outbreak.

The former chief scientific adviser and chair of the rival group to Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Independent Sage, David King, did not criticise Cummings but highlighted recent actions by Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

“He did not go and visit his mother, who was dying in a care home, because visits to care homes had been stopped during their lockdown. I think that is how people in government need to behave. They need to set an example.”

He added: “You should surely stay at home if you have the symptoms or a member of your family has the symptoms. The very last thing you should do is go running off to change your place of abode at that time, especially moving to elderly parents.”

Reacting to Cummings’s statement, Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said it only served to reinforce the adviser’s “clear disregard for public safety.

He said: “There are still Covid-19 deaths in care homes and hospitals. The pandemic can finish only if there is strong leadership from the government and compliance from the general public.

“Going forward, we have real potential issues around trust in the government from the general public. However, it is of huge importance that the public do try to stay on board with the expert-led advice, to support themselves, their families and the general population.”