Dominic Cummings row: senior health official says lockdown rules ‘apply to all’

England’s deputy chief medical officer has said that the lockdown rules “are clear and they have always been clear”, in the strongest condemnation yet by a senior health official of Dominic Cummings’ lockdown breach.

It comes as the government’s own science advisers broke cover over its decision to ease lockdown measures, with a growing number expressing concerns about plans for England from Monday.

As people flocked to beaches and beauty spots and temperatures soared over the weekend, Jonathan Van-Tam warned at the daily press briefing on Saturday that the country was at a “very dangerous moment” describing coronavirus as “a coiled spring ready to get out if we don’t stay on top of it”.

Van-Tam urged the public not to “tear the pants” out of government guidance, saying the country would have to move slowly out of the lockdown as fears grow that the warm weather and easing of restrictions could lead to a decline in compliance.


He urged the public to adhere to the latest guidelines, saying the virus could infect many more people, and warning that with the current R rate between 0.7 and 0.9 the country had to move slowly.

During the conference Van-Tam was asked to comment on the controversy surrounding Cummings, the government’s senior political aide, and whether he had breached the rules of the lockdown by travelling to see his family during the height of the pandemic in the UK. While the chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance, said on Thursday that he did “not want to get involved in politics”, Van-Tam said he was “quite happy” to answer the question.

“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.”

Earlier in the day one of the government’s scientific advisers warned that the Cummings affair has eroded trust in its authority, while a growing number of other government advisers voiced unease over the decision to lift England’s lockdown, warning that loosening restrictions could easily lead to a second wave.

Prof Robert West, a member of the scientific pandemic influenza group on behaviours (SPI-B) that advises Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), said the decision by Cummings to travel from London to Durham during the full lockdown would have an impact on people adhering to the latest rules.

The UCL scientist said: “Trust in authority telling you to do things is very important when it comes to people adhering to those rules. When people see something like the Cummings affair … that’s not a recipe for trust.”

R, or the ‘effective reproduction number’, is a way of rating a disease’s ability to spread. It’s the average number of people on to whom one infected person will pass the virus. For an R of anything above 1, an epidemic will grow exponentially. Anything below 1 and an outbreak will fizzle out – eventually.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the estimated R for coronavirus was between 2 and 3 – higher than the value for seasonal flu, but lower than for measles. That means each person would pass it on to between two and three people on average, before either recovering or dying, and each of those people would pass it on to a further two to three others, causing the total number of cases to snowball over time.

The reproduction number is not fixed, though. It depends on the biology of the virus; people’s behaviour, such as social distancing; and a population’s immunity. A country may see regional variations in its R number, depending on local factors like population density and transport patterns.

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

It came as the culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced that football, tennis, horseracing, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby and snooker would start up again. Groups of up to six people from different households will be able to exercise together from Monday, while maintaining a distance of 2 metres, he said.

Billed as the recovery of British sport, the move will allow teams to play together and take part in conditioning and fitness sessions which do not involve physical contact.

“Today I am also glad to confirm that we are relaxing the rules on exercise further so that from Monday people will be able to exercise with up to five others from different households, crucially, so long as they remain two metres apart,” he said. “The British sporting recovery has begun.”

Dowden added that the government has published guidance to allow elite sport to resume behind closed doors, with guidelines on how to get athletes back into socially distanced training and then back into close-contact training.


‘Football is coming back’: competitive sport to return next week, says UK culture secretary – video

Boris Johnson has announced a gradual easing of the lockdown in England from Monday, when friends and relatives will be able to meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six.

“Happy Monday” will also signal the reopening of schools – allowing children in nurseries, early-years settings, reception, year 1 and year 6 to return to class – as well as more shops, with outdoor retail and car showrooms able to resume operations.

Van-Tam agreed that it was a “dangerous moment” and that scientists were right to urge caution but he added that scientific opinions always vary to some extent “across the piste”.

He went on to urge the public to continue to comply with the guidance saying that otherwise the virus could get out of control.

“Don’t see this as a curve that’s the same going up as it is down, it’s quite easy for it to go up, [but] it’s quite hard to get the brakes on to go back down,” he said.

“So I really hope that people will follow the advice that’s given to the letter, and not any further than that, to make sure we’re never in that position again.”

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