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Boffin quits over affair in lockdown

‘Regrets’: Prof Neil Ferguson

THE scientist who persuaded Boris Johnson to put Britain in lockdown resigned last night after breaking the rules to see his married lover.

Prof Neil Ferguson, a senior member of the government’s Sage advisory committee, has let Antonia Staats, 38, visit his house at least twice since the regulations were imposed on March 23.

Days before the lockdown began, he warned the PM that Britain faced up to 500,000 dead if social isolation was not introduced.

Two visits to his house: Antonia Staats

Prof Ferguson, 51, apologised last night and said he ‘deeply regretted’ undermining the government’s message. ‘I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action,’ he told telegraph.co.uk.

‘I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in Sage.

‘I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.

‘I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic.’

The Imperial College London researcher had just recovered from coronavirus when Ms Staats journeyed across the capital from her south London home to visit him on March 30.

A week earlier, health secretary Matt Hancock had insisted that couples not sharing a home must not meet during the pandemic. Ms Staats visited again on April 8, by which time she had reportedly confided to friends that she suspected her husband had contracted the disease.

Campaigner: Antonia Staats hands a petition into No.10 PICTURE: STEPHEN BROWN

Prof Ferguson has been one of the strongest advocates of the lockdown. He said last month that ‘significant social distancing’ will have to remain for months after it is lifted.

His resignation follows that of Dr Catherine Calderwood, who quit as Scotland’s chief medical officer last month after making two trips to her second home amid the lockdown.

Mr Johnson’s communities secretary Robert Jenrick was also criticised when it emerged that he travelled 150 miles from London to a property he owns in rural Herefordshire.

Police in England and Wales have so far handed out 9,000 fines to lockdown breakers.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused Prof Ferguson of hypocrisy.

‘We have been doing as he says and he has been doing as he wants to,’ he said. ‘He has peculiarly breached his own guidelines and for an intelligent man I find that hard to believe.’

Ms Staats declined to comment and Prof Ferguson stressed that he stood by his own advice.

‘The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us,’ he said.