U.K. PM resists calls to sack adviser who drove 400 km while wife showed COVID-19 symptoms

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls from opposition parties to pocket adviser Dominic Cummings on Saturday after traveling 400 km (250 miles) to Northern England while his wife was showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Cummings, who led the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union during the Brexit referendum, traveled to Durham in late March when a strict shutdown was already in place.

Johnson’s office said Cummings had made the trip to ensure that his young son could be properly looked after, since his wife was ill with COVID-19 and there was a high chance that Cummings would become unwell herself.

“I behaved reasonably and legally,” Cummings told reporters outside his home after telling them to stay 2 meters apart in accordance with government guidelines.

When a reporter said his behavior was not looking good, Cummings said, “Who cares about good looks – it’s a matter of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you think. “

Ministers supported the senior advisor.

“I can tell you that the Prime Minister is fully supporting Mr Cummings,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told reporters, adding that he did not know when the Prime Minister heard of the trip.

Downing Street said Cummings’ actions “were in accordance with the Coronavirus guidelines.”

Johnson’s leading ministers, including Michael Gove, Secretary of State Dominic Raab and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, also defended Cummings.

But opposition parties called on Johnson to fire Cummings, saying the lockdown rules made it clear that people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms should isolate themselves with their entire household.

“The prime minister’s chief adviser seems to believe that this is one rule for him and another for the British people,” said the Labor party. “We still don’t know who knew about this decision and when or whether it was approved by the prime minister.”

Just days before Cummings’ journey, Johnson imposed a lockdown in the UK and asked people to stay at home. He said on March 23 that people “should not meet family members who do not live in your home.”

Shortly after Johnson announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, Cummings sprinted Downing Street on March 27 and developed symptoms on the weekend of March 28-29.

According to government guidelines, those who have or suspect they have COVID-19 should isolate themselves with their household for at least seven days and, for whatever reason, not leave their homes.

The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats called for Cummings to be dismissed.

Other prominent figures have stepped down after breaking the lockdown rules.

Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson dropped out as a member of the government’s scientific advisory group after being visited by his girlfriend at home. Catherine Calderwood, the Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, stepped down after being caught on two trips to her second home.

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