Dominic Cummings: The lingering questions
Dominic Cummings opened up to the media on Monday about his stay in County Durham amid lockdown restrictions.
But despite his press conference lasting an hour, many of the powerful Downing Street adviser’s explanations did not satisfy everyone, and there were more questions left to be answered.
Here are some of them:
– How many breaches of lockdown restrictions did Mr Cummings commit?
None, if you share Mr Cummings’ view. Others say one. Still, others say two.
None: Mr Cummings said he, his wife Mary Wakefield, and their son travelled by car from London to County Durham on the night of March 27 to be near his relatives. He said with Ms Wakefield having fallen ill, and with Downing Street reporting coronavirus cases, this was the best option to secure childcare should both he and Ms Wakefield become unwell. Mr Cummings indeed reported waking up ill the next morning, and was soon said by Downing Street to have coronavirus symptoms. Because of the childcare issue, Mr Cummings insisted his move was reasonable under the “exceptional circumstances” clause of the lockdown guidelines. He said the 270-mile trip was completed without a stop.
One: However, many experts said the trip was still a definite breach. Professor Jackie Cassell, deputy dean of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said the rules were clear: people should not leave major cities to go to second homes in rural areas. Aside from potentially spreading coronavirus, it would place an extra burden on small local hospitals if admission was needed.
Two: Some reports said that after the Cummings family’s return to London on April 13, Mr Cummings made a second visit to Durham. The Observer and the Sunday Mirror quoted an unidentified witness as saying they saw Mr Cummings walking through Houghall Woods, near his parents’ property in Durham, and commenting: “Aren’t the bluebells lovely?” Mr Cummings on Monday denied this second trip, and insists photos and data on his phone disprove the reports.
In any event, Downing Street regularly refused to confirm where Mr Cummings was self-isolating after news broke that he was ill.
– Did the Cummings family observe social distancing in County Durham?
Mr Cummings said yes, saying the three stayed in isolation in a house on his parents’ property. He said they never entered the homes of his parents or his sister, who dropped shopping outside their temporary abode.
– What about the trip to Barnard Castle?
Mr Cummings said he was symptom-free but still “weak” by April 11, and was considering a return to work. But he said since his eyesight had been affected by the coronavirus, he and Ms Wakefield decided not to attempt the drive home to London. Instead, the next day, the family took “a short drive to see if I could drive safely”.
They “ended up” on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town, he said. This was also the day of his wife’s 45th birthday.
Mr Cummings insists his family did not visit the castle itself or walk around the town. He had “felt a bit sick”, and so the only movement made was a walk of 10 to 15 metres to sit on a riverbank for about 15 minutes until he felt better.
The next day he felt well enough to undertake the long drive back to London, and he returned to work one day after that, on April 14.
– What did the papers say about the trip to Barnard Castle?
The Observer and Sunday Mirror reported an eyewitness – 71-year-old retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees – saw Mr Cummings and his family walking in Barnard Castle town. The Guardian also reported retired council worker Rosalind Evans, 60, had complained to Durham police after reporting seeing Mr Cummings with a group of people walking in Barnard Castle town.
Meanwhile several people, including Police Federation chairman John Apter, have advised people not to drive a car as a means of testing whether their eyesight is impaired.
– Why the darting to and from Downing Street on March 27?
He dashed from Downing Street – where there had been confirmed Covid-19 cases – to his north London house to see Ms Wakefield. But then, when she reported feeling better only two hours later, he went back to No 10. He returned home later that day, before the drive to Durham.
Potentially spreading the disease from London to Durham is one issue. Isolation guidelines strongly suggest the proper thing to do would have been to work from home, after his first return to his house that day. Mr Cummings has not fully addressed his movements that day, other than the decision to flee to Durham.
– Was Boris Johnson aware Mr Cummings had gone to Durham?
While Downing Street repeatedly refused to confirm where Mr Cummings was isolating, Mr Cummings said he had mentioned to the Prime Minister what he had done in a phone call during his first week in County Durham – at a time when both men were “sick and in bed”. Mr Johnson said he remembers a brief conversation with Mr Cummings in which he learned he was in Durham, but since he was also seriously ill he “really didn’t focus on the matter”. Mr Johnson said he did not know of Mr Cummings’s plans in advance.