UPDATE – UK govt under fire as top adviser flouts lockdown rules


By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal and Karim El-Bar

LONDON (AA) – The British government is under fire from opposition parties demanding a top adviser resign after reports that he flouted official directives weeks ago during the coronavirus lockdown and traveled hundreds of miles after developing symptoms.

Local media reported that Dominic Cummings, chief aide to Premier Boris Johnson, visited his parents in Durham, north England around six weeks ago when he had the symptoms and should have self-isolated for two weeks in line with the official government advice.

Cummings travelled with his wife to Durham while she was also unwell, according to reports by The Guardian and The Mirror.

People should not visit family members “who do not live in your home” unless they need specific help such as “having shopping or medication dropped off,” according to the government lockdown rules in place since late March.

Durham police spoke to Cummings’ family to remind them of the lockdown rules after receiving reports on March 31 that he was in the city shortly after developing symptoms and supposed to be in self-isolation.

“On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city,” a spokesperson from the Durham Constabulary said.

“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house,” the spokesperson added.

“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”

Neil Ferguson, a leading British scientist whose modeling made the case for the lockdown, quit the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) when it was revealed he had a woman over to his home twice, breaking social distancing rules.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the time that he was “speechless,” and that “I think he took the right decision to resign.”

Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood also quit after it was reported that she made two trips to her second home during the lockdown despite her own advice that the public should avoid all non-essential travel.

– Reaction

The BBC reported that a “small number of people in No 10 [the Prime Ministry] knew that Cummings had gone to Durham.”

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford told the BBC: “Members of Downing Street knew about this so, first and foremost, Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer over what now appears to be a cover-up.”

“The lockdown rules were very clear,” a statement by Labour said. “However, the prime minister’s chief adviser appears to believe that it is one rule for him and another for the British people.”

“This will cause understandable anger for the millions of people who have sacrificed so much during this crisis.

“Number 10’s statement also raises more questions than it answers. We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the prime minister and whether Number 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from Durham Police.”

Susan Michie of University College London, a member of the Sage advisory group, tweeted about the controversy: “Trust in Government is key to maintaining adherence to Government #COVIDー19 advice and perceived fairness is key to trust.”

The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru also called on Cummings to go.

The hashtags #sackDominic and #resign have been trending on Twitter as many members of the public also demanded answers.

– ‘Who cares?’

Downing Street on Saturday called Cummings’ action “essential” due to his and his wife’s circumstances.

“Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”

Government ministers came out in force to defend Johnson’s powerful special adviser.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak tweeted: “Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with Coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicize it should take a long hard look in the mirror.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “I know how ill coronavirus makes you. It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill.”

Asked outside his London home whether he thought his actions looked bad, Cummings said: “Who cares about good looks?”

“It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think,” he said.

He then took newspaper photographers to task for not practicing social distancing or staying two meters apart from each other.

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By Burak Dag

ANKARA (AA) - Anadolu Agency is here with a rundown of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic and other news in Turkey and around the world.

- Coronavirus in Turkey

Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday that Turkey doesn’t expect a second wave of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.

Turkey also reported 931 more COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals over the past day, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 130,852.

Twenty-four more people died from virus, bringing the death total from the outbreak to 4,609. More than 2 million tests have been conducted so far nationwide.

As of Monday, Turkey began easing measures against COVID-19, with domestic flights and inter-city travel resuming and restaurants opening their doors to customers.

Over 77,000 Turkish citizens who went into precautionary coronavirus isolation after being evacuated from abroad have finished their quarantines in student dormitories, said a top Turkish official.


- Global coronavirus developments

Worldwide coronavirus cases exceeded 6.5 million, according to the US’ Johns Hopkins University.

The worldwide death toll exceeded 386,000, while the number of people who recovered stands at more than 2.8 million.

The US is the worst-hit country, with the death toll surpassing 106,500.

Russia, still ranking third among countries with the most COVID-19 cases, reported more recoveries than infections on Wednesday, with 8,972 people discharged from hospitals while 8,536 were admitted.

Meanwhile in Africa, the death toll has risen to 4,493, with 149 more fatalities. South Africa emerged as the worst-hit African country in terms of cases with 35,800, while Egypt suffered the most deaths with 1,100.

Italy reported 71 more fatalities from coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 33,601, as the country lifted restrictions on regional travel and resumed international tourism.

Italy is also one of the first countries in Europe to reopen its borders to international tourism – hoping to relaunch its key tourist industry, hit hard by the pandemic.

Since the start of the outbreak, the death toll in France reached 29,021, with cases rising slightly to 151,677, up 352 from the previous day.

Spain’s Health Ministry confirmed that 240,300 people have now been infected by the virus in Spain – up nearly 400 from Tuesday, when 219 people tested positive compared to 137 on Monday and 71 on Sunday.

Belgium on Wednesday decided to further ease coronavirus-related restrictions, with cafes, restaurants, and gyms set to reopen on June 8.


- Worldwide protests over George Floyd killing

As protests over the brutal death of George Floyd continued to rock the US, Pope Francis condemned racism in any form but added that violence is self-destructive.

In the US, the Pentagon announced that it had transferred about 1,600 troops to the Washington, DC area in response to the ongoing protests.

Meanwhile, thousands of people took to the streets of London Wednesday to march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and protest the killing of Floyd.

Turkey's ruling party spokesman hailed demands for equality in the US.

Former US Defense Secretary James Mattis slammed President Donald Trump on his handling of the Floyd issue, saying that Trump is "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people."

Current Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday he does not support Trump's proposal to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to quell protests across the country.


- Other developments

The Libyan army took complete control of the Tripoli airport after it was under the control of warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces for one year.

The Kosovo Assembly on Wednesday elected Avdullah Hoti prime minister, leading the country’s sixth government since it declared independence in 2008.

Russia on Wednesday congratulated Turkey on 100 years of diplomatic ties.

As anti-racism protests continue worldwide, boxing legend Muhammad Ali was commemorated Wednesday four years since his passing, not only for his talent in the ring but also his legacy in fighting racism and discrimination in the US.

The US announced Wednesday that Chinese airlines will be suspended from operating passenger flights to and from the US.

The move is reportedly retaliation for China not approving US airlines providing passenger service to China amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Economic Forum announced Wednesday that the 2021 Davos summit in Switzerland will be held under the theme of the Great Reset.

A senior PKK terrorist surrendered to Turkish security forces in southeastern Turkey, the country's Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday.