Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Britain on Wednesday to move on from what he described as a "very, very frustrating episode" when his closest advisor provoked outrage and scorn for travelling during the coronavirus lockdown.
Dominic Cummings has refused to quit after it was revealed that he had driven 400 km (250 miles) from London to northern England in March with his 4-year-old son and his wife, who was sick at the time, to be close to relatives.
Johnson has repeatedly backed his advisor.
Opinion polls show that faith in Johnson has tumbled since the Cummings story broke on Friday in The Mirror and The Guardian newspapers, with some people openly lampooning both the prime minister and his aide on social media.
Opposition parties and some Conservative lawmakers have also demanded that Cummings, the man behind the successful 2016 Brexit campaign and Johnson's landslide 2019 election victory, should resign. He has refused to apologize.
"It's been a very, very frustrating episode and I understand why people ... have been so concerned, because this country is going through a horrendously difficult time," Johnson told a parliamentary committee.
"(If) what we need to do is to focus on getting the message right ... then I think what we need to do really is to move on."
It was a message his ministers pressed on Wednesday, trying to dampen down a row that has dominated news coverage since late on Friday and put Johnson, who said he would lead "the people's government" when he won last year's election, under scrutiny.
As nearly 70 million British citizens endured the most stringent lockdown in peacetime history, the news that the second most powerful man in the British government had taken such a long road journey was greeted with dismay by many.
YouGov found 71% of people believed Cummings had broken lockdown rules and 59% thought he should resign.
Just a few days before Cummings' journey, Johnson imposed a lockdown in the United Kingdom and asked people to stay at home. He said on March 23 that people "should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home".
Cummings said he had acted reasonably and not broken the lockdown rules — a position supported by Johnson and senior ministers.
Meanwhile there was confusion about the fines — of a minimum of 60 pounds ($74) — imposed by police on thousands of ordinary people for breaking lockdown rules.
Housing minister Robert Jenrick said there would be no official review of fines imposed on ordinary people and that it was for the police to decide.