THE LEADER of Sunderland Labour Group has condemned the Government, for undermining ‘the most important public health message in living memory’.

Councillor Graeme Miller said the Government’s defence of 10 Downing Street’s most senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, has opened the door to a second wave of the deadly virus, by giving people carte blanche to bend and break the rules.

He said: “During the coronavirus pandemic, I have seen the most incredible acts of selflessness and sacrifice. People in this city, putting themselves in harm’s way each and every day, to ensure others survive this dreadful illness; families, desperate to spend time together, but knowing the way to demonstrate how much they love each other is to remain apart.

“For most families in Sunderland, and indeed across the country, the sheer recklessness and selfishness of Dominic Cummings’ actions – carrying a deadly virus halfway across the country and flagrantly flouting rules he helped devise – will stick in their throat. And rightly so.

“It is clear that neither Cummings nor the Prime Minister have the humility or decency to apologise for this woeful episode. Their strategy was to ride this media storm out – because they know that people will get bored of hearing about it all. Well, I hope people don’t get bored. I hope people remember the fact that so many have sacrificed so much, while Cummings has cavorted around with his family, with total distain for the rules and the way in which this nation has – for the most part – selflessly observed them, even in the most heart-breaking circumstances.”

Cllr Miller is concerned that Sunderland residents have already started to drop their guard against the virus, with reports of Seaburn and Roker beaches being packed over the weekend, with many people not observing social distancing.

“It was deeply concerning to see our beaches so busy over the Bank Holiday weekend, and we understand that in some cases people were clearly not observing social distancing.

“Sunderland’s people have so diligently stuck to the rules since lockdown was imposed – and that is to their credit. But there can be little doubt that the Government’s new messaging, ‘stay alert’ is so vague that it’s meaningless, and the cavalier attitude of Cummings has led to the erosion of trust in a vital public health message. That – as leader of this city – is my number one concern. We know that the R rate here is high, and the risk to the public is still very real.

“Self-entitled Cummings has given so many people, exhausted by this lockdown, carte blanche to adapt the rules to suit themselves, and that is a terrible risk at a critical stage in the fight against this disease.
“I am asking residents to please, carry on looking out for others and do not follow the actions of Cummings.”

He added: “If anyone was in any doubt about the contempt this Government holds average people in, then the mask has slipped – there simply cannot be any doubt now. This is a Government that thinks it is above everyone else – that sneers at rules it created while watching everyone else abide by them.

“I sincerely hope that the absolutely indefensible and frankly stupid behaviour of Cummings and the Prime Minister in supporting his advisor does not detract from the efforts of the nation, and that people continue to protect each other. That is the only way we can overcome this deadly virus.”