LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a torrent of calls on Saturday to dismiss his most influential adviser, Dominic Cummings, after reports that Mr. Cummings had visited relatives in northern England while he was ill with the coronavirus — a violation of Britain’s lockdown rules.
Mr. Johnson appeared determined to stand by Mr. Cummings, an enigmatic figure who helped mastermind his election victory last year and the Brexit campaign that resulted in Britain’s departure from the European Union.
But the reports that Mr. Cummings had driven to his parents’ house in Durham in April when the government was urging people to stay home — particularly those with symptoms of the virus — set off a political tempest, with critics accusing him of flouting the rules that apply to everybody else.
“The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings,” said a spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, who added that he had “breached the lockdown rules.”
Leaders of two other opposition parties, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, demanded that he resign or be fired.
Confronted by reporters outside his home on Saturday, Mr. Cummings said, “I behaved reasonably and legally.” Asked whether his decision had been “a good look,” he replied: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It is not about what you guys think.”
The furious reactions to his trip attested to the polarizing role Mr. Cummings has played in British politics since before the 2016 Brexit referendum. He has accumulated a long list of enemies, including some in the Conservative Party, like Iain Duncan Smith, a former party leader, whom he has ridiculed or sidelined.
But it also showed Mr. Johnson’s deep reliance on Mr. Cummings. The prime minister dug in his heels on Saturday, releasing a statement, through a spokesman, that defended Mr. Cummings and his wife for making the 260-mile drive to Durham. It said they had been trying to line up care for their young child after he contracted the virus and expected he would fall ill.
The adviser went to a house “near to but separate from his extended family,” the statement said, after his sister and nieces had offered to help.
“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines,” the statement said.
If so, however, Mr. Cummings seemed eager not to disclose the trip. His wife, the journalist Mary Wakefield, wrote an account of her husband’s illness in The Spectator that made no mention of their drive and suggested he had been bedridden for 10 days at home with a “high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs.”
Mr. Cummings himself described being shut in with Ms. Wakefield, who also had symptoms, for more than two weeks, beginning at the end of March, when he contracted the virus soon after Mr. Johnson.
Violations of the lockdown by prominent figures have become a recurring theme in Britain, with the penalties falling harder on private citizens and scientific experts than on government officials.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and adviser to the government, stepped down from a key scientific panel after acknowledging he had invited a woman with whom he was reported to be romantically involved into his apartment during the lockdown. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, resigned in April after reports she had traveled twice to a vacation home.
But Robert Jenrick, the secretary for housing, communities and local government, held on to his job after admitting he had driven an hour outside London to visit his parents. And Stephen Kinnock, a prominent Labour member of Parliament, brushed aside criticism from the police after he visited his father, Neil Kinnock, for his birthday in March.
Though an adviser and not an elected politician, Mr. Cummings has twice been critical to Mr. Johnson’s political success. Not only is he an accomplished campaigner, the man behind the pro-Brexit slogan “take back control,” but he also inspired Mr. Johnson’s agenda to spread prosperity to neglected areas of the country, including the north.
His public profile rose when he was portrayed by the actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a drama about the Brexit campaign, as a sort of tortured genius determined to destroy the political elite. Since the election, he has reveled in his image as an eccentric, disheveled iconoclast, intent on reinventing government — Downing Street’s answer to Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former strategist.
Mr. Cummings put out a call for “weirdos and misfits” to join him in the government (one of those appointed later resigned). He mocked cabinet ministers, appearing to suggest that children’s cartoon characters might do a better job. And he clashed with grandees of the Conservative Party, once describing a former Brexit secretary, David Davis, as “thick as mince,” “lazy as a toad” and “vain as Narcissus.”
Cabinet ministers and other Conservative lawmakers showed support for Mr. Cummings on Saturday, including the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab; the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak; and the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated May 20, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?
There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.
Can I go to the park?
Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.
How do I take my temperature?
Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
How can I help?
Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.
“I know how ill coronavirus makes you,” Mr. Hancock tweeted. “It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill.”
Others stayed silent, however, perhaps waiting to see whether Mr. Cummings could ride out the storm.
At a news briefing on Saturday afternoon that was dominated by the issue, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said Mr. Cummings had the “full support” of the prime minister. But the Labour Party said that Downing Street’s explanations “raised more questions than they answer” and called for an inquiry into Mr. Cummings’s actions.
While the Labour Party demanded answers, it stopped short of demanding his resignation. That appeared to reflect a tactical judgment by the party leader, Keir Starmer, that the episode would do more damage to the government, which is already on the defensive for its handling of the virus, if it were dragged out over several days.
And criticism flowed not just from opposition politicians.
Julia Hartley-Brewer, a broadcaster and journalist who generally leans to the right politically, described how she had been separated from her 77-year-old mother, who lives on her own and suffered a heart attack in December.
“So excuse me if I am beyond bloody incandescent at what Dominic Cummings did,” she wrote in a tweet that used another expletive.