The Government’s feet were held to the fire in an excruciating press conference dominated by questions on the Prime Minister’s top aide allegedly breaking lockdown rules.
Last night Downing Street became embroiled in a political storm over Dominic Cummings driving 250 miles with his family to his parents’ house in Durham after his wife developed coronavirus symptoms.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had the great fortune of answering uncomfortable questions from journalists at this afternoon’s Downing Street briefing. As Boris Johnson continues to face calls to sack his top adviser, the Government’s attempts to defend Cummings’ actions have been branded a ‘shambles’.
Downing Street have stood by the 48-year-old Brexiteer insisting he behaved ‘in line with coronavirus guidelines’ as he made the trip from London to arrange childcare for his children in case he and his wife both fell ill.
Speaking to reporters, Shapps said: ‘It was a straightforward arrangement that meant he stayed in the same place and prevented the possibility of the child in this case from not having support around him.
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‘The Prime Minister knew that he was, quite properly, staying in place with his family, which is the right thing to do.’
According to Government guidance, households should self-isolate for 14 days if someone in the family has coronavirus symptoms. In a speech on March 18 the Prime Minister said: ‘Children should not be left with older grandparents, or older relatives, who may be particularly vulnerable or fall into some of the vulnerable groups’.
When Shapps was asked if this meant Cummings’ decision meant that anyone with coronavirus symptoms could now travel anywhere in the country to stay at a family member’s home, Shapps said: ‘It’s for an individual to make the decision “how do I make sure I’ve got enough support around the family”, particularly in the case you are referring to with a potential of both parents ending up being ill and having a young child to look after.
‘How do you have that support network around them, and the decision here was to go to that location and stay in that location. They don’t then need to move around from there and so it would be for each individual to work out the best way to do that, which is what’s happened here.
‘You have to get yourself in lockdown and do that in the best and most practical way – and I think that will be different for different people under whatever circumstances, their particular family differences, happen to dictate, that’s all that’s happened in this case.’
This appears to be a diversion on what the Government has been saying up until this point – to stay at home for the incubation period of the disease.
Also at the conference was Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said it was ‘clear’ that someone showing symptoms should self-isolate.
She added: ‘The public health advice is take yourself out of society if you have symptoms, stay at home, stay at home with your family, I don’t know the details of this specific case and I am commenting on the medical advice.’
Dr Harries said government guidance always accounts for ‘safeguarding’ of children who have ‘no support’.
She added: ‘There’s always a safeguarding clause in all of the advice. The interpretation of that advice is probably for others.’
Many people felt as if the Government was attempting to ‘pull wool over our eyes’ by saying the 250 mile trip to the North-East was in the interest of Cummings’ young child.
Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan was certainly not a fan of the adviser’s actions.
Taking to Twitter, he said: ‘This briefing is a humiliating fiasco. Cummings has destroyed any credibility the Govt had left on lockdown. One rule for them, another for we plebs.
‘Cummings’ wife’s sister LIVES IN LONDON. His closest aide LIVES 2 STREETS AWAY IN LONDON. This is such bullsh*t.’
He asked whether the family had stopped off at a service station for food or a trip to the loo during the 250 mile journey.
Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘Grant Shapps tried in vain to bat questions away and defend the indefensible. l bet when he got the call today he must have thought oh no why me? Please PM couldn’t you have asked somebody else? Weary face ironically finishes with asking people “not to travel”.’
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