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Scientists raise concerns over Cummings’s lockdown ‘breach’

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Former chief scientific adviser David King says people working in government should ‘set an example’

Scientific experts have responded with dismay to reports that the prime minister’s senior adviser travelled 260 miles with his family to be near relatives when his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms.

Dominic Cummings has been under pressure to quit after the Guardian and Mirror newspapers reported that he had been seen in Durham during lockdown. It was later reported that the adviser had been spotted at Barnard Castle, 30 miles from his parents’ home, on Easter Sunday.

In an impromptu press conference held at 10 Downing Street on 25 May, Cummings told reporters that he did not regret what he had done and believed that he had acted “reasonably”.

While he would not comment specifically on Cummings’s actions, David King, former chief scientific adviser and chair of the rival group to Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Independent Sage, highlighted recent actions by Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

“He did not go and visit his mother, who was dying in a care home, because visits to care homes had been stopped during their lockdown,” he told Research Professional News. “I think that is how people in government need to behave. They need to set an example.”

He added: “You should surely stay at home if you have the symptoms or a member of your family has the symptoms. The very last thing you should do is go running off to change your place of abode at that time—especially moving to [be with] elderly parents.”

Meanwhile, Ian Taylor, who served as minister for science and technology from 1994 to 1997, took to Twitter to express his frustration following the revelation.

“Am now an Independent Conservative—despite 23 years a Tory MP and party membership from 1963 in student politics,” he wrote. “I no longer recognise the party nor align with the instincts of its leaders.”

Reacting to Cummings’s statement, Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said it only served to reinforce the adviser’s “clear disregard for public health guidance”.

“There are still Covid-19 deaths in care homes and hospitals,” he added. “The pandemic can only finish if there is strong leadership from the government and compliance from the general public.

“Going forward, we have real potential issues around trust in the government from the general public. However, it is of huge importance that the public do try to stay on board with the expert-led advice, to support themselves, their families and the general population.”