In ten years of being your MP, other than for BREXIT issues, this is the largest mailbag I have received from Constituents whether in support or against Mr Cummings. I have read every single one and I hope in the round I can reply giving you my feelings on the matter.
Constituents have faced difficult situations during this pandemic, the heart-breaking of not being able to attend funerals of loved ones or visit elderly and sick relatives and some are struggling to cops. But you have all obeyed the rules to protect the NHS and all of the people in our Country.
There cannot be one rule for some and not for others so I do understand how angry people are about what appears to be a breach of lockdown by Dominic Cummings.
However, the basic facts are, on the 24th March, once lock-down had begun, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, clarified at the televised press conference who could look after a child if both parents or carers were incapacitated. She said: "Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance. And if the individuals do not have access to care support - formal care support - or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs." In this instance Mr Cummings did have access to family in Durham. The distance is not the issue. This TV appearance did not mean that you had to dig into the ‘small print’ of the guidance, this was a public statement for all to see and hear.
At his press conference on Monday, Dominic Cummings talked about why he drove to the separate home on his fathers farm with his vulnerable 4 year old and his wife ill with coronavirus. Also having symptoms and fearing he might fall ill too, he drove there non-stop knowing his child could be cared for and they could isolate for 14 days in a separate building. If necessary his 17 year old niece could take over the child care of his vulnerable 4 year old which is wholly permissible under the rules as there are explicit written exemptions in cases of children’s welfare.
Dominic Cummings fell ill shortly afterwards and, other than taking their child to hospital they did not leave the property until the quarantine period had ended and they were completely free of the virus. They then returned to London after first briefly visiting a nearby town. During this whole episode, social distancing was maintained.
I personally have spent countless hours watching 24 hour news and reading numerous hourly announcements on Gov.uk in order to have the up to date guidance and information to assist Constituents when replying to their queries. I have had to give advice to relatives picking up Aunties at Heathrow coming back on re-patriation flights, parents going and picking up stranded children who were stuck in empty Student accommodation with no facilities which both involved travelling long distances during lockdon. I have done my best to answer every request for help and guidance from Constituents and I wanted to share that with you as things are rarely black and white and I have had to use my judgment in giving this advice.
Constituents have formed their own opinion which they are perfectly entitled to do and I have emphasised to the Prime Minister the strength of feeling, on both sides, of Constituents who have taken the trouble to raise this matter with me.
Mrs. Heather Wheeler
Member of Parliament for South Derbyshire