An advisor to the PM breaches lockdown rules and creates a political crisis
More than forty thousand people in the UK have died in the Covid-19 outbreak. Yet, despite lockdown rules, emergency funding and extensive information campaigns and briefings, there are still people here who think they know best; who think they can flout the rules and take whatever risk they want to; who fail to understand that their actions affect not just them - but everybody.
This failure to understand the collective responsibility that each individual must be part of in order to control the virus is not limited to us ignoramus plebs. Last week it was revealed that a special advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson had breached the lockdown rules at the height of the crisis in March. The actions of the advisor, Dominic Cummings, were a blatant violation of the rules yet he justified his actions and his boss supported him, but this then escalated into a political crisis with public outrage mounting and an increasing number of MPs from the PM’s own party calling for the advisor to go. On Tuesday, the first Tory minister resigned from the cabinet on this matter.
The story is bizarre because Cummings’ actions were jaw-droppingly blatant. Around the time when both the prime minister and the health secretary tested positive for coronavirus (on March 27th), Dominic Cummings disappeared from public view and Downing Street confirmed that he was suffering Covid symptoms so he was self-isolating. But a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Mirror, published on May 22nd, revealed that despite suffering Covid symptoms, Cummings and his wife had breached lockdown rules in spectacular fashion: not just had they violated the directive to ‘Stay Home’, they had left their home in London along with their four-year-old son and then driven more than 260 miles north to Durham where his elderly parents live.
But this was not the only breach: during the stay in Durham, Cummings’ son was unwell and was taken to hospital. Cummings’s wife, who’d already had Covid symptoms travelled to hospital with their son in an ambulance. Cummings, who was also said to have coronavirus symptoms later went to the hospital to pick them both up. As if it were not bad enough that they had not taken proper quarantine measures, they also chose to take the infection they had contracted in London, into a hospital in Durham. And this was not all, on March 12 the family drove to the nearby scenic town of Barnard Castle where they were spotted by locals sitting by the river (the public health rules at that time stipulated that you could only leave your home once a day, and only to get some form of exercise, not to linger or sit in parks or public places). They then drove over 260 miles back to London and on April 14 Cummings went back to work.
Why drive your young family all the way to London when you are suffering post-Covid problems with your eyes?
Although Number 10 Downing Street was contacted for comment before the publication of the story, they declined to comment; however they did not defend Dominic Cummings’ actions. After publication of the report, Boris Johnson defended his advisor’s actions and then Cummings himself held a press conference in which he read out his version of events which ran along the lines that he had acted in the interests of their child and had travelled to Durham so that in the event of their both falling ill, the child could be cared for by members of Cummings’ family, He did not, apparently, think that his brother-in-law and his family, who live in London, could have cared for the child in such circumstances or that his very many Tory friends and families could have helped out…. Cummings insisted that the drive to Barnard Castle was not a pleasure trip but “a test drive” to see if he would be okay to make the long drive to London as his “eyes had been bothering” him. He claimed they had disembarked from the car because his son said he needed to pee, and that he was sitting by the river only because he had suddenly started to feel sick in the car. Despite all these symptoms Cummings not just drove the 260 miles to London, he was back at work two days later.
Even Cummings’ own account shows a flagrant disregard for lockdown rules. Although he framed the narrative as being a case of “any parent would act so in the best interests of the child”, his account is full of inconsistencies and flaws. Why drive your young family all the way to London when you are suffering post-Covid problems with your eyes? Why expose the hospital in Durham to the virus by going there? Why drive all the way to Durham, where apparently they stayed on a cottage on his parents’ land but had no contact or support from family while there? And was it just a coincidence that the outing to Barnard Castle happened on the day of his wife’s birthday? Cummings also claimed that they made no stops on the drive to and from Durham – approximately 5 hours each way – either for fuel or to use washrooms. This prompted people to marvel at the bladder control of the whole Cummings family (including the 4-year-old).
The reason there has been public outrage about the matter is because Cummings’ actions display a level of contempt for the public health directives the government was telling everybody to follow. The irresponsible arrogance of taking this sort of decision has been much criticised by both members of the public and political parties. People are angry that while they have followed the regulations carefully, even missing funerals and last meetings with loved ones – elderly parents, children, spouses - Cummings chose to flout the rules and behave in a publicly irresponsible manner.
And the idea of “one rule for Cummings, another for everybody else” is reinforced by the fact that previously scientific advisors to the government were condemned and forced to resign for having breached lockdown rules -even though their reasons were much more reasonable and their actions much less risky than Cummings’.
Also disturbing is the level of deceit involved: Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield wrote about going through the virus and having a toddler, but failed to mention that this had not happened in their London home. In her piece in The Specatator (April 25), this fact is obfuscated, the journey and the long drive are not mentioned. In his presser, Cummings kept trying to stress how hard he was working with government to control the situation and how aware he was of the epidemic by repeatedly saying that he “had been aware of the dangers of epidemics and had written in his blog about the dangers of a coronavirus epidemic” much before the current crisis. A day after his claims, it was revealed that his March 2019 blogpost had been in fact been rewritten last month to insert a reference to “SARS coronavirus” and include a reference to Wuhan.