Boris Johnson's top adviser Dominic Cummings is under fire for breaking lockdown rules. (Photo: AFP)
The British government on Saturday rejected calls to sack top adviser Dominic Cummings over allegations he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by traveling across the country while displaying symptoms of the disease.
Cummings, who masterminded the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union during the Brexit referendum and announced he was suffering from coronavirus symptoms on March 30, traveled to his parents' home in Durham northeastern England on March 31, when a strict lockdown was already in place. It's more than 400 kilometers away from his London home.
In a televised address to the nation on March 23, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced unprecedented limits on where and how people can meet and gather during the continuing coronavirus. One of these regulations said anyone with symptoms must self-isolate in their own homes and that people over 70, as Cummings' parents are, are not allowed to receive visitors.
The changes marked a stark escalation of the government's response to the pandemic. On March 16, people had been told to avoid all non-essential contact with others, and four days later, on March 20, all bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants were closed. Subsequently, all schools and childcare facilities, except for the children of key workers, were closed.
Britain's opposition Labour party said his actions suggested Cummings viewed himself as above the law.
"It cannot be one rule for those who set them and another for the British people," Labour leader Keir Starmer said.
Ed Davey, acting leader of the smaller Liberal Democrats, said that if Cummings broke the rules, "He will have to resign."
Meanwhile, Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in the Westminster parliament, tweeted, "It is clear that @BorisJohnson must sack Dominic Cummings."
A screenshot of Ian Blackford tweets Boris Johnson must sack Dominic Cummings, May 24, 2020. (Photo: CGTN)
An unnamed minister told the Daily Telegraph, "He's going to have to go. It's just arrogance."
But a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Cummings had acted "in line with coronavirus guidelines.
Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, what he did was just to ensure his young child could be properly cared for, the spokesman said on Saturday.
"His sister and nieces had volunteered to help, so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed," he said.
On Saturday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries suggested that there was some room for maneuver if both parents were ill, saying that "all guidance has a common sense element to it, which includes safeguarding around adults or children."
Cummings also denied reports in the Guardian newspaper that police had spoken directly to him or his family over the issue.
Nevertheless, police in Durham confirmed on Friday that on March 31, they received a tip-off about someone who had traveled to the city from London and they repeated their statement on Saturday.
"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 police said.
The Labour party said the government's response "raises more questions than it answers," particularly over whether "Number 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from police."
Government colleagues came to Cummings' defense, with foreign minister Dominic Raab tweeting that "two parents with coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child.
A screenshot of UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab's tweet, May 24, 2020. (Photo: CGTN)
"Those now seeking to politicize it should take a long hard look in the mirror," Raab said.
Cummings, meanwhile, was filmed leaving his home on Saturday, telling a throng of reporters that it was "a question of doing the right thing, it's not about what you guys think," while rebuking the gathered journalists and photographers for not obeying social distancing rules.
The adviser has been a highly divisive figure in British politics ever since masterminding the successful 2016 Brexit campaign alongside Johnson.
When Johnson was elected prime minister last year, he brought in Cummings as his top adviser.
Downing Street revealed at the end of March that Cummings was self-isolating with virus symptoms. Johnson was also infected and ended up in intensive care.
Earlier this month, leading epidemiologist Neil Ferguson quit a government panel on coronavirus after admitting breaking the lockdown rules to meet his mistress.
And Scotland's chief medical officer resigned early in April after it emerged that she had made two trips to her second home in violation of the lockdown rules.
Britain has been the worst-hit country in Europe, with a death toll of 36,757, and 258,504 confirmed cases, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins.