A scientist who advises the UK government on the coronavirus says Boris Johnson’s support for an aide who breached lockdown rules has undermined efforts to fight the pandemic and warned that “more people are going to die” as a result.
Professor Stephen Reicher, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), was speaking after Boris Johnson defended Dominic Cummings, his chief aide, who reportedly travelled to the north of England on multiple occasions despite the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Reicher told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday: “If you look at the research it shows the reason why people observed lockdown was not for themselves, it wasn’t because they were personally at risk, they did it for the community, they did it because of a sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’
“If you give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us, you fatally undermine that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and you undermine adherence to the forms of behaviour which have got us through this crisis.”
“The real issue here is that because of these actions, because of undermining trust in the government, because of undermining adherence to the rules that we all need to follow, people are going to die.
“More people are going to die.”
The prime minister on Sunday insisted that Cummings behaved “responsibly, legally, and with integrity” after he admitted having travelled in March to Durham, where his parents live, for childcare support after his wife displayed COVID-19 symptoms.
He did not address reports by the Daily Mirror and Guardian that Cummings had subsequently travelled to the north of England at least two further times in April, where he was spotted by members of the public, but Downing Street had earlier called the reports “inaccurate.”
After Johnson’s comments, Professor Reicher tweeted on Sunday that Johnson had “trashed” the government’s attempts to persuade people to comply with the coronavirus lockdown.
“As one of those involved in SPI-B, the government advisory group on behavioural science, I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19,” he tweeted.
“Be open and honest, we said. Trashed. Respect the public, we said. Trashed. Ensure equity, so everyone is treated the same, we said. Trashed. Be consistent we said. Trashed. Make clear ‘we are all in it together’. Trashed.”
Cummings admitted making the first trip to Durham on March 31. Johnson defended the trip by saying he had “no alternative” but to make it because he needed his parents’ help with childcare as he and his wife were “about to be incapacitated by coronavirus.”
The Daily Mirror and Guardian’s joint report claimed that a member of the public spotted Cummings in Barnard Castle, 30 miles from his parents’ home on April 12, two days before he was again photographed in London. Another eyewitness then claimed that they saw him back in Durham, where his parents live, on April 19.
Over 20 Conservative MPs had by Monday called for Cummings’ resignation, amid fears the episode will significantly damage public trust in both the government and its public health messaging on coronavirus.
Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist who also sits on SPI-B, tweeted on Sunday: “I spent this weekend refining our contact tracing analysis.
“One of the things that’s always stood out is that for these targeted measures to work, we need public adherence to quarantine to be very high.
“But I fear it’s now going to be far more difficult to achieve this.”
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