Second senior medical adviser weighs in over Dominic Cummings

Peter Walker Political correspondent

A second senior government medical adviser has effectively criticised Dominic Cummings for breaching lockdown regulations by saying it is “a matter of personal and professional integrity” to abide by the rules.

The outspoken comments by Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, come a day after Jonathan Van-Tam, who holds the same post, broke the silence among advisers by criticising Cummings’ actions.

Asked about the controversy over the decision by Boris Johnson’s chief adviser to decamp from London to Durham with his family at the height of the lockdown, an issue other advisers had previously ducked, Van-Tam had said he was quite happy to answer it.

“In my opinion the rules are clear and they have always been clear,” he said. “In my opinion they are for the benefit of all. In my opinion they apply to all.”

At Sunday’s daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Harries – who was appearing alongside the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick – was asked whether she agreed with Van-Tam. She replied: “Absolutely”.

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“I thought his exposure of what he felt was exactly right,” she said. “We usually say exactly the same things because we think in public health terms, and I think that’s right. From my own perspective, I can assure you that on a matter of personal and professional integrity, I will always try to follow the rules, as I know he does.

“The important thing there is that they are all rules for all of us, and it is really important as we go through into this next critical phase that we do all follow them to the best of our ability, and even minimise some of the freedoms that are there.”

The issue of compliance with lockdown rules has become even more important given that some will be eased from Monday. Harries told the briefing the risks were mitigated by most of the new freedoms taking place outdoors, but she said it was “a really, really critical time” in the process of reining in Covid-19.

Dominic Raab said earlier on Sunday that he had had no idea Cummings was self-isolating with coronavirus outside London, even though it coincided with the foreign secretary standing in as prime minister during Boris Johnson’s illness.

Raab said it was possible he only had only learned about Cummings’ trip to Durham with his family when he read about it in the media.

“I’m not sure,” Raab said when asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show when he first knew about the 260-mile journey. “But to be honest with you, when the story broke was when I first became aware of the detail of it.”

Raab took over from Johnson when the prime minister was moved into intensive care with serious coronavirus symptoms on 6 April, and when Cummings and his family were still in Durham.

Asked what he knew, Raab said: “I just knew he was out of action because he had come down with coronavirus and given the scenario we were in, with the prime minister taken ill, and very seriously ill as it later emerged, I was just focused with the government and with a great cabinet team on making sure we continued to focus relentlessly on dealing with the virus.

“I mean I knew Dom was unwell and he was out of action, and obviously I wanted him and the prime minister to get well soon, but I wasn’t focused on his movements at all and I wasn’t aware of them.”

Asked whether that meant he first learned of the trip when the Guardian and Daily Mirror broke the story, Raab said: “I wouldn’t be able to say with any precision. I want to be able to give you a really accurate, reliable answer, but at the time I wasn’t aware of it except to know that he was unwell, out of action.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t enquire as to his own personal circumstances. I was just getting on with the job.”

His comments came as fresh questions emerged about one aspect of Cummings’ time in Durham, when witnesses saying they saw him walking around Barnard Castle on 12 April, Easter Sunday.

Cummings’ 60-mile round trip to the town from his father’s estate in Durham with his wife and son is already central to claims he broke lockdown rules, which have brought widespread calls for him to resign.

In his highly unusual Downing Street press conference last Monday, Cummings said he took the trip to see if his eyesight had properly recovered from Covid-19 so he could drive back to London, and that he and his family only stopped briefly.

The Sunday Times, however, reported two more witnesses as saying they had spotted Cummings, his wife and young son. One said she saw them walking around the town, something Cummings said they did not do. Another said they saw him walking on a river path.