Did Dominic Cummings actually break any lockdown rules?

Steve Bird
Dominic Cummings
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

When the Prime Minister announced Britain was going into lockdown two months ago he gave the apparently unequivocal instruction that we must all “stay at home”.

Within 24 hours, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, outlined possible exceptions to that rule, including how ill parents with a small child created “exceptional circumstances”.

Now, after it has emerged Dominic Cummings and his wife travelled 260 miles with their son to stay at a home near his extended family in Durham despite having coronavirus symptoms, allies of Boris Johnson’s special advisor are highlighting that advice to justify his trip.

At the Downing Street press conference on March 24 Dr Harries said parents who are ill and may not be able to look after a child created “exceptional circumstances” where family members could be called upon to help.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said in a tweet the parents had travelled there because they were “anxiously taking care of their young child”.

Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, also took to social media to say: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”

But the lockdown rules row has illustrated once again how many people fear there is one rule for the British public and another for those creating those laws.

On March 23, Mr Johnson delivered his broadcast to the nation in which he gave “a very simple instruction - you must stay at home.”

He explained how people could only leave their homes for limited reasons, such as one daily exercise, shopping for basic supplies, obtaining medicines and travelling to and from work if it was not possible to work from home.

He added: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.

“You should keep in touch with them using phone or video calls.”

Only in exceptional circumstances were people allowed to travel to relatives’ addresses - to drop off food or medicine at their door.

Even now, with lockdown restrictions eased, trips to family members’ homes are still not permitted. Government guidance states: “If you are showing coronavirus symptoms, or if you or any of your household are self-isolating, you should stay at home – this is critical to staying safe and saving lives.”

However, on March 24 Dr Harries was asked at the daily coronavirus conference what parents who showed symptoms of Covid-19 should do when it came to childcare.

Explaining how those drawing up restrictions had had to balance both the need to manage the spread of the virus and “thinking through” more complex issues, she said: “A small child clearly is a vulnerable individual, so in this case, although we are encouraging everybody to stay in their own households - that's the unit with the same risk exposure. 

"Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance. 

“If the individuals do not have access to care support, formal care support or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs.”

The official guidelines also define a “reasonable excuse” to leave home include providing “personal care… to a vulnerable person”. It is that explanation that sources close to Mr Cummings are saying he relied upon to justify his trip.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus, and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

“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.

“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.”

Lockdown rules

Yet the story developed further last night when the Sunday Mirror and Observer claimed that Mr Cummings had been spotted back in Durham after he had already started working physically in 10 Downing Street again.

If the eye-witness accounts are correct, they would imply that Mr Cummings had returned to London, and then gone back to Durham again.

A No 10 spokesman said that the stories were “inaccurate” and criticised the “stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers”.

Downing Street had previously confirmed that Mr Cummings had started displaying coronavirus symptoms “over the weekend” of March 28-29.

Political leaders have called on Mr Johnson to sack the 48-year-old strategist for flouting rules he had drawn up.

David Lidington, the former Conservative MP, said it raised serious questions.

He told BBC Newsnight: “There’s clearly serious questions that No 10 are going to have to address not least because the readiness of members of the public to follow government guidance more generally is going to be affected by this sort of story.”

A Labour spokesman said: “It cannot be one rule for those who set them and another for the British people.”

The latest claims have further inflamed the story.