PM's Adviser Dominic Cummings Showed 'Disregard for Public Health'

Peter Russell

May 26, 2020

The decision by the Prime Minister's senior adviser Dominic Cummings to embark on a 260 mile road trip from London to his parents' estate in Durham during COVID-19 lockdown has been condemned by doctors and scientists for undermining the Government's rules.

Over the course of an hour on Monday, Mr Cummings, seated at a trestle table in the Downing Street garden, explained why he had no regrets about driving his wife and young son to be close to his family after she developed symptoms of coronavirus, and he feared being unable to care for the child if he also fell ill.

He insisted that he had no regrets over his behaviour, and refused to resign, despite being accused of breaking the lockdown rule of staying at home to save lives and protect the NHS, which he had helped draft.

"The statement from Cummings really only reinforced his clear disregard for public health guidance," said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.

Public May Follow His Example

Dr Rinesh Parmar, the chair of the Doctors' Association UK, called on Mr Cummings to resign or be sacked by Boris Johnson, arguing that doctors were outraged by the actions of the Prime Minister's senior aide.

Dr Parmar told The Guardian: "Our worry is that people will think that it's safe and perfectly legitimate to start ignoring the rules and moving around the country in the same way that Dominic Cummings has. That has a severe impact on the containment of the virus.

"Doctors are thankful that the public has been fantastic in listening to the rules set out by the Government so far and that is what has allowed us to get control of the virus. But having one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for everybody else doesn't inspire confidence amongst the public and doesn't give them clear guidance about what they should do."
 

Ministerial Resignation

Mr Cummings' decision to 'tough it out' and remain in post cost Mr Johnson a member of his government today. Douglas Ross, Under Secretary of State for Scotland, and MP for Moray, said: "While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings' interpretation of the Government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked.

"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.

"I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the Government was right."

However, Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, described Mr Cummings as a man of "honour and integrity" who had sought to "reduce the risk of infection to anyone else".

That view was not shared by Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, who commented: "That government is now excusing one of its senior employees for breaking the rules is a slap in the face for every single disabled parent and family with a disabled child, who has locked down, stood fast with their community, endured hardship, and endured coronavirus symptoms with little to no support."

And Labour said events over the weekend had raised serious questions about the implications for policing the lockdown. 

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, asked whether guidance to police forces had been updated regarding travel restrictions for people with coronavirus symptoms and those in a household with someone experiencing symptoms.
 

NHS 'Still Fragile'

Prof Jackie Cassell, deputy dean of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, told the Science Media Centre: "During lockdown, and for many months ahead, we all need to protect the NHS from people becoming ill with COVID-19 in second homes.  This could easily overwhelm the NHS in less densely populated areas. This is the reason for the very clear rule – which still stands – that people should not move out of major population centres to their second homes. We haven't run out of ITU beds, but that could still happen."

During his press conference, Mr Cummings revealed details of a trip to a hospital a few miles from his parents’ farm when his son became ill, and was taken there by ambulance, travelling with his wife, who stayed overnight.

Prof Cassell said: "The NHS has ramped up hospital and ITU capacity across the country to ensure enough acute beds in a COVID-19 surge for its local resident population. It simply cannot do this for visitors as well.

"London has lots of ITU and hospital beds as a major population centre. Its residents should not be decamping to places where they might need – and in this case did need – to use another region's hospitals and health care facilities."

Vision Problems

Questions were also raised about a trip made by Mr Cummings to the popular tourist destination of Barnard Castle on 12th April, his wife's birthday. 

He explained that the journey was designed to test his eyesight, which had been affected by illness, before attempting to drive back to London.

Dr Head remarked that it was "very poor public health practice to put your family in a car and go for a 60 mile drive in order to test your eyesight".

Dr Amir Khan, a GP from Leeds, told Good Morning Britain that he had not heard of the coronavirus causing eyesight problems. "Anyone whose eyesight is not up to scratch should not be driving," he said.

The continuing furore over Mr Cummings' trip to the rural North East of England came as the Prime Minister outlined plans to change the lockdown rules as he announced that many non-essential shops would be allowed to open during June.

Dr Head said the transition would require strong leadership from the top. "Going forward, we have real potential issues around trust in the Government from the general public," he said. "However, it is of huge importance that the public do try and stay on board with the expert-led advice, to support themselves, their families and the general population."
 

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