Boris Johnson has declined to apologise to a Labour MP who condemned the “absolute disgrace” of ministers defending Dominic Cummings’ breach of lockdown rules, while other people missed the funerals and last moments of loved ones.

In a passionate intervention at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi listed the funerals and other events he had missed because of Covid guidelines, and demanded Johnson apologise for not having sacked his then chief adviser last year.

Johnson did say in response that he was “deeply, deeply sorry”, but ignored Dhesi’s question to instead express general regret at the suffering experienced by people during the pandemic.

The Slough MP began his question by describing his own experiences in abiding by lockdown rules.

“My grandmother, whom I loved dearly, was lying on her hospital deathbed and none of us were allowed to be there, to comfort her in her final moments. I couldn’t even carry her coffin on my shoulders,” he said.

“I also had to endure the agony of watching alone, online, the funeral of my uncle, my fun-loving uncle. And we were not there to comfort my brother-in-law’s father, who had somehow contracted Covid in a Slough care home, during his final moments. All this because we followed government guidance.”

He then contrasted this with the behaviour of Cummings, who travelled from London to Durham amid the peak of the lockdown in March last year, and once there made a 52-mile round trip to the local beauty spot of Barnard Castle with his family on Easter Sunday, an expedition he later said was only undertaken so he could test his eyesight.

Johnson and other ministers vigorously defended Cummings’ actions, and his eventual departure from No 10 in November last year was unconnected to the trip.

Dhesi said: “Having experienced such painful, personal sacrifices, like many others, imagine our collective disgust when in order to curry favour with the prime minister’s chief adviser, we see sycophantic, spineless, hypocritical government ministers lining up to defend the indefensible, saying, ‘It’s time to move on,’ with some even having the gall to tell us that they too go for a long drive when they need to get their eyesight tested.

“What an absolute disgrace, and they should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. So when is the prime minister finally going to apologise to the nation for not mustering up some courage and integrity, for not doing the honourable thing and sacking his chief adviser who so shamelessly flouted his own government guidance?

“He could have regained that lost public trust and confidence and he could have demonstrated that it’s not one rule for him and his elite chums, and another for the rest of us plebs.”

Johnson replied by saying he and others in the government “sympathises with those who have gone through the suffering described by the gentleman opposite”.

Saying he would “take his criticisms most sincerely of the government”, Johnson did apologise, but not for his own actions: “I apologise for the suffering the people of this country have endured. All I can say is, nothing I can say or do can take back the lost lives, the lost time spent with loved ones that he describes. And I’m deeply, deeply sorry for that.”

Dhesi has previously lambasted Johnson at PMQs. In 2019, the MP was cheered in the Commons for condemning the prime minister’s language on race and religion, notably a 2018 Daily Telegraph column in which Johnson compared Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.