The UK Prime Minister’s top adviser on Monday tried to defuse a national scandal over breaking the country’s coronavirus lockdown rules, giving an extraordinary address from 10 Downing Street.
Dominic Cummings told of driving his wife and young son 420 kilometres from London to Durham, where his parents live.
Mr Cummings said giving the details of his journey would help to clear up the widespread anger over his decision.
But the adviser’s address set social media sites ablaze with further questions about his travels, and questioning by many of Britain’s top political journalists stretched his retelling of the incident to its limits.
Mr Cummings said he had driven nearly 50km from Durham to Barnard Castle, a popular tourist destination, as a test because he was worried he could not see properly after recovering from the virus.
But social media users asked if it was advisable to get behind the wheel at all if you had concerns over your vision, and wondered if Mr Cummings had put his family at risk.
“Driving a car with a child in it if you think you have bad eyes is putting them in danger,” a Twitter user wrote.
Others pointed to the UK’s driving safety guidelines, which require road users to report any concerns or changes to their eyesight to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
“When you take your driving test they normally check your eyesight before you get in the car,” wrote one user.
Many compared Mr Cummings’ performance to that of Britain’s Prince Andrew after questions surrounding his links to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
The eye-test explanation drew comparison to Prince Andrew’s claim that he was unable to sweat because of his experiences in the Falklands war.
Mr Cummings's wife, the journalist Mary Wakefield, also found herself at the centre of the renewed scrutiny over the lockdown drive.
Twitter users pointed out that Ms Wakefield's birthday corresponded with the visit to Barnard Castle, casting further doubt on Mr Cummings's eye-test claim.
Many were left wondering why Mr Cummings's wife did not contribute to the driving if he was feeling unwell, and asked whether she was able to drive.
Other apparent holes in Mr Cummings’s story were queried, including the possibility of completing the 420km journey from his home in north London to Durham, in England’s far north-east, without stopping for fuel.
When asked whether he had stopped to refill his tank on the journey, which could have risked spreading the virus, he said he might have stopped on the return leg of the journey but couldn’t remember.
One Twitter user said Mr Cummings’s Land Rover Discovery could only achieve 14km a litre, making the long drive without a stop “possible, but unlikely”.
And debate broke out over whether Mr Cummings’s car ran on petrol or more efficient diesel fuel.
In the aftermath of the press conference, it also emerged that Mr Cummings had gone back and edited a post on his blog to make it look like he had warned of the risks of coronaviruses as early as 2019.
In fact, according to one eagle-eyed Twitter user, Mr Cummings's blog post on pandemic risk was updated to include references to Sars and coronavirus between April and May of this year.
With a death toll of more than 36,000, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the government was already under pressure over its handling of the pandemic.
Mr Johnson said he accepted Mr Cummings’s explanation for the trip, and the adviser said he had not considered resigning.
The prime minister's refusal to fire Mr Cummings has angered many in his own party.
At least 20 Conservative MPs have now called on him to resign or be sacked.
Police in Durham on Monday said they were formally investigating whether Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules.