Sajid Javid did not win over any fans after supporting the cabinet’s decision not to wear masks in a crowded meeting, while he was in interview on Wednesday.
Asked about a photograph published by No. 10 on Tuesday where between 30 and 40 ministers without masks are crammed, Javid said it was “perfectly in line” with the advice of the Prime Minister.
The health secretary said the current guidelines were that “masks should be considered in places crowded with foreigners”.
In his plan to deal with Covid in the coming months, Boris Johnson revealed this week that the public should take self-protection measures, including wearing masks in high-risk or overcrowded places.
The health secretary’s comments also followed repeated warnings from scientific experts that face masks should be worn to reduce a winter peak in Covid infections.
Javid was asked about the no-mask backbench Tories who have also been seen attending major meetings in the House of Commons.
The Health Secretary replied, “They are not strangers. “
It’s safe to say that Javid’s comments weren’t well received online.
Journalist Kevin Maguire tweeted: “It’s good for Conservative MPs to sit maskless very close to 364 friends,” the health secretary said.
“I doubt his chief medical officer would agree.”
Another Twitter user wrote: “So … is the implication that Covid [is] less likely to be surprised by a close contact who is a friend or colleague? Virus will be delighted with this coverage.
Labor shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Reynolds also told Sky News that this was an example of government ‘complacency’.
He said: “My biggest catch yesterday was seeing the Health Secretary talk about how we might have to ask people to wear masks in confined spaces, in the workplace, surrounded by MPs. Conservatives, none of them wearing masks, just gives me the sense of complacency that I feel is sometimes too important a feature of government.