Aide to British PM Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret COVID-19 lockdown trip

Aide to British PM Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret COVID-19 lockdown trip
Dominic Cummings, senior aide to Boris Johnson, makes a statement inside 10 Downing Street, London, Monday. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2020

Aide to British PM Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret COVID-19 lockdown trip

Aide to British PM Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret COVID-19 lockdown trip
  • Cummings has faced calls to quit
  • The furor has overshadowed and muddled the government’s public health messaging

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s closest aide refused to resign on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong by driving 250 miles from London to access childcare when Britons were being told to stay at home to fight COVID-19.
Dominic Cummings has faced calls to quit from lawmakers, Church of England bishops, police officers and scientists over his trip to County Durham, northern England, which they said had damaged citizens’ trust in public health messaging.
But he plays a vital role for Johnson, and the prime minister’s own judgment has been called into question for defending him and keeping him in his job, leaving many Britons thinking the rules did not apply to the people in charge.
“I did what I thought was the right thing to do,” Cummings said in response to reporters’ questions after reading a statement defending his decision to travel 400 km to Durham with his wife, who was ill at the time, and his four-year-old son.
“I think ... I behaved reasonably,” he said.
Johnson had come out fighting for Cummings at a news conference on Sunday, but his intervention backfired after he failed to provide any detailed justification for his adviser’s actions.
With a growing number of lawmakers from his own Conservative Party openly defying him by calling on Cummings to quit, Johnson asked his trusted aide — who normally stays behind the scenes — to explain himself in public on Monday.
The stakes are high for Cummings, Johnson and the nation. The furor has overshadowed and muddled the government’s public health messaging as the country gradually starts to ease the lockdown.
With a death toll of around 43,000, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the government had already been under pressure over its handling of the pandemic.
EYE TEST?
In an extraordinary scene in the rose garden at 10 Downing Street, the official prime ministerial residence and office, Cummings, 48, sat at a desk on the grass for an hour, subjecting himself to detailed questions.
The choice of venue underscored Cummings’ power at the heart of government and his importance to Johnson, whom he helped to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union in a 2016 referendum, and later helped to win power.
He said he undertook the trip soon after learning that Johnson had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Cummings’ wife was already ill and he feared if he too fell ill neither parent would be strong enough to care for their son.
He said he decided they should go and stay in an isolated cottage on his father’s farm so that his 17-year-old niece could look after his son if necessary. Cummings did fall ill while they were there, as did his son who briefly went to hospital.
Asked whether he tried to find a childcare option in London before leaving, he said he did not think it would have been reasonable to ask friends to expose themselves to the virus.
Cummings answered questions about whether he had stopped for petrol or for his son to go to the toilet during the long drive.
Whether or not Cummings’ sometimes convoluted explanations win over critics may take time to become clear.
Quizzed about a drive he took with his wife and son from the family farm to a local beauty spot, Barnard Castle, he said his eyesight had been affected by his illness and they wanted to check he would be able to undertake the journey back to London.


Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign
Updated 18 January 2021

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign
  • Indonesia planning to inoculate 181 million in nationwide vaccination drive

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government’s strategy to promote coronavirus vaccination is under fire after an influencer who received a vaccine jab last week was spotted violating health guidelines just a few
hours later.

Indonesia started the nationwide vaccination drive on Wednesday to inoculate 181 million of its 276 million people, after the national drug regulator authorized the emergency use of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech and the country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs approved it as halal, or permissible under Islamic law.

President Joko Widodo, who was the first Indonesian to receive the vaccine, described the campaign as a “game changer,” amid hopes that achieving herd immunity would help to revive the economy, which has been reeling from the pandemic. 

Alongside officials and religious leaders, 33-year-old soap opera star Raffi Ahmad also received the jab. Government strategists hoped he would promote vaccine acceptance with his huge social media presence of some 50 million followers on Instagram and 19 million on YouTube.

However, soon after receiving his shot Ahmad was photographed at a party, without a face mask and violating social distancing measures imposed by the government to contain the virus spread. The photos quickly made the rounds on social media, provoking a backlash to the government’s campaign and resulting in a lawsuit against the celebrity.

“He was really careless. He is tasked with promoting the vaccination drive, but he failed to behave accordingly,” said David Tobing, an independent lawyer who has filed the case against Ahmad for “violating the regulations to control the pandemic and for public indecency.”

“I demand in my lawsuit that the court order Ahmad to stay at home for 30 days after he gets his second vaccine jab and to issue a public apology in national print and broadcast media,” Tobing told Arab News on Saturday. “I filed the lawsuit after I received a lot of feedback from the public, including COVID-19 survivors and those who have lost loved ones because of the coronavirus.”

Ahmad has apologized on social media, saying that he did not want to disappoint the president and the public after getting the privilege of being vaccinated, but justified going to the party as it was held at a private home and said that he taken the mask off only to eat. The first hearing against Ahmad is scheduled to be held at a district court in Depok near Jakarta on Jan. 27, Tobing said. He added that he is aware that Ahmad had apologized but the actor “did not seem to have any regret.”

In response to a question by Arab News at a press briefing after the incident, national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said that officials had reprimanded Ahmad over the blunder. He justified the involvement of celebrities in the vaccination campaign.

“When we have a major program like vaccination, we hope that a big influencer such as Raffi Ahmad can play a pivotal role to make sure young people will support the vaccination,” Adisasmito said.

Experts have criticized the government’s strategy, saying that Ahmad receiving the vaccine is unlikely to appease public concerns over the vaccine’s efficacy and possible side effects.

“Health professionals, religious figures and government officials have more credibility and integrity to promote this vaccination drive than influencers,” said Sulfikar Amir, a sociologist from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Amir, who initiated a petition in early December calling on the government to give vaccinations to all citizens when Jakarta was still planning to inoculate only selected groups, said that by appointing the celebrity influencer to promote immunization the government showed that it “has no ability to influence the public to take part in the vaccination drive.”

“This is not the same as promoting consumer goods that the influencers normally do,” he said. “It is about public health issues.”