Coronavirus: questions over Johnson aide overshadow plans to reopen UK economy

Earlier, Dominic Cummings refused to apologise for what appeared to be breach of lockdown rules

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a daily news conference with Public Health England's (PHE) Medical Director Yvonne Doyle (not pictured), on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain May 25, 2020. Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IMAGE CAN NOT BE USED FOR ADVERTISING OR COMMERCIAL USE. THE IMAGE CAN NOT BE ALTERED IN ANY FORM. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

As British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday tried to announce plans to reopen the economy, his daily coronavirus briefing was overrun by questions about the travel habits of his most senior aide during lockdown.

Hours earlier, Dominic Cummings refused to apologise for taking a 420-kilometre trip with his wife and young son during the lockdown.

Mr Cummings refused to resign and said he had “no regrets” about travelling from London to his parents’ home in Durham, north-east England, when he and his wife became ill last month.

Britain has been in lockdown since March 23, with advice to avoid all but essential travel and to stay at home unless leaving to buy essential items, seek medical help or briefly exercise.

But Mr Cummings, the architect of the Brexit campaign, said a loophole in the rules about “exceptional circumstances” in regards to children meant he had not breached emergency laws.

In a later briefing, Mr Johnson defended his adviser’s actions, despite him breaching a health law he helped to create.

Critics say Mr Cummings's trip to Durham has undermined the government's coronavirus message of staying at home to stop the spread of infection.

“I do not believe anyone in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging," Mr Johnson said.

"What we want to make clear to the public is that we stay alert, control the virus and save lives."

But he said that he regretted the confusion caused by the row over the lockdown.

Mr Johnson then chose to distance himself from the controversy, saying  the British public “would have to make their minds up” and repeatedly referring back to Mr Cummings's earlier briefing.

He clearly wanted to turn the attention to his plans to reopen the UK economy..

Mr Johnson said Britain would open markets and car showrooms from June 1, subject to all premises adhering to social distancing.

He said the virus was less likely to spread in outdoor settings so outdoor businesses could reopen earlier.

Mr Johnson said he expected all other non-essential retail shops could open from June 15, including small independent shops that had been hit hard by the pandemic.

Britain on Monday confirmed another 121 coronavirus deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Mr Johnson said the new death toll for the country was 36,914.

The UK recorded 1,625 new cases of the virus in the previous 24 hours, but hospital admissions are declining, said Prof Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England.

Prof Doyle said 0.25 per cent is the average proportion of the population who had the virus between May 4 and 7, the most recent data available.

The current infection rate of the virus in the UK is between 0.7 and one, meaning each infected person is passing it on to only one other at most.

Britain has been one of the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, with the second highest number of deaths, behind the US.