LONDON (Reuters) – Dominic Cummings, a top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, damaged public confidence in the government’s coronavirus response by travelling out of London when the city was in lockdown, an academic study published on Thursday said.
Cummings was at the centre of a huge public outcry among locked-down Britons when it was revealed he had travelled 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of London to be closer to family for childcare reasons after his wife fell ill.
He denied breaking the rules, was backed by Johnson, and resisted pressure to quit.
The incident caused a clear decrease of public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, which started from the day the story broke and has not recovered since, a study by University College London (UCL) found.
“These data illustrate the negative and lasting consequences that political decisions can have for public trust and the risks to behaviours,” lead author of the study, Daisy Fancourt said.
The researchers said they had separated out the effect of the Cummings row on confidence in the British government by comparing data from a large scale survey, with data from the same source on confidence in devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, and in the health service.
Confidence in England dropped by 0.4 points on a seven point scale between May 21 and 25, while there was no corresponding drop on the other indicators.
The study looked at 220,000 results from more than 40,000 individuals between April 24 and June 11. The findings have not been externally peer-reviewed ahead of their publication, UCL said.
(Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison)