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Johnson faces lockdown-breach claims over garden party

LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a wave of public and political outrage on yesterday over allegations that he and his staff flouted coronavirus lockdown rules by holding a garden party in 2020 while Britons were barred by law from mingling outside the home.

Opposition politicians called for a police investigation after broadcaster ITV published a leaked e-mail invitation to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden of the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence in May 2020. The e-mail from the prime minister’s Private Secretary Martin Reynolds was sent to dozens of people and urged attendees to “bring your own drink”.

The event was scheduled for May 20, 2020 – the same day the government at a televised news conference reminded people they could only meet up with one person outside their household. London’s Metropolitan Police force also published reminders about the rules that day.

The police force said yesterday it was “in contact with” the government over the party claims, which follow allegations of several other rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic.

During Britain’s first lockdown, which began in March 2020 and lasted for more than two months, gatherings were banned with a few exceptions, including work and funerals.

Millions of people were cut off from friends and family, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.

On the day of the garden party, 268 people with the coronavirus died in Britain, according to official figures, bringing total deaths to more than 36,000. The total now stands at over 150,000, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. PHOTO: AP

Lyndsay Jackson, whose mother died of COVID-19 in May 2020, said the government showed “contempt for ordinary people and for the difficulties we were all facing”.

“I wasn’t able to be with her when she died, I wasn’t able to hold her hand. I couldn’t even hug my brother after the funeral,” said Jackson, a member of the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. She told Sky News that Johnson was “beneath contempt”.

Johnson’s Conservative government has repeatedly been accused of flouting the rules it imposed on others during the pandemic, which brought the most severe restrictions on Britons’ individual freedoms since World War II.