Government advisers exist to act like body armor for politicians, ejected quickly at the first whiff of trouble. Tony Blair dumped Alastair Campbell, his spokesman and consigliere, as a judicial inquiry into the Iraq war hit a fever pitch. Donald Trump binned his political shaman Steve Bannon at the height of a racism scandal. And Boris Johnson has Dominic Cummings. However, the fact that Cummings still has a job, despite blundering into a crisis that has engulfed the U.K. for a week, proves what a different sort of beast he is.
The U.K. has been under lockdown since March 23, at which point the government adopted the slogan “Stay Home, Save Lives.” Citizens were permitted to leave the house to buy food or to briefly exercise; anything more would be an offense punishable with fines. If you had symptoms of the coronavirus, your entire household was to remain at home for 14 days. As per the health secretary, Matt Hancock, “This advice is not a request. It is an instruction.” Grandparents stopped seeing their grandchildren. Parents who became ill had to figure out how to care for their children. People were banned from visiting loved ones in hospital, discouraged from attending their funerals.