Coronavirus: UK's COVID-19 advisor Professor Neil Ferguson resigns after breaking lockdown rules with married lover

The professor who helped guide the United Kingdom's COVID-19 response and co-authored an influential paper on strategies to combat it has resigned from his government advisory post.

Epidemiologist and Imperial College professor Neil Ferguson quit the role after The Daily Telegraph revealed on Wednesday (NZ time) that his married lover visited him multiple times during the country's lockdown in late March and early April.

The United Kingdom has implemented a fairly similar lockdown strategy to New Zealand in terms of requiring people stay at home and only interact with those in their household.

The woman visiting Prof Ferguson, Antonia Staats, has reportedly said she considered the pair's households to be one, despite living in different parts of London. According to the Telegraph, Staats normally lives with her husband and children, while The Daily Mail says Prof Ferguson is separated from his partner.

Prof Ferguson said on Wednesday that he accepted he "made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action". He was, therefore, resigning from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (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," he said.

“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic. The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us."

Ferguson received attention globally recently for his work on an Imperial College paper modelling the effects of different strategies to fight the virus. It highlighted that intensive intervention measures - like forms of lockdown - would likely need to be maintained until a vaccine became available. If countries removed lockdowns, they would have to quickly ramp them back up again if there was a spike in cases.

Imperial College's modelling found that as many as 500,000 Brits could die from the virus if no action was taken to encourage social distancing.

Ferguson is not the first health official in the United Kingdom to break the rules. Scotland's chief medical officer resigned after visiting her second home during the lockdown. 

New Zealand's Health Minister came under fire for breaching lockdown rules by taking his family to the beach for a walk. He wasn't stripped of his Health Minister role but was demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings and had his Associate Finance role taken off him.