It’s been said before by Conservatives that the coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate”. Yet comments made by Sajid Javid, the health secretary, on Wednesday have sparked controversy, after he defended Tory MPs not wearing masks in the House of Commons because “they’re not strangers”.
The comments were made during an appearance on Sky News, when Javid was shown a photo of a cabinet meeting where ministers were shown not wearing masks.
“There’s basically, what, 38 to 40 people in that room, poorly ventilated, not one person is wearing a mask, on the day that you advise us to wear masks in situations like that,” said presenter Niall Paterson.
On Tuesday, the government unveiled its autumn and winter plan for the UK, with a “comprehensive approach” known as ‘Plan A’ containing measures such as test, trace and isolate and the vaccination programme, and a ‘Plan B’, with mandatory mask wearing and COVID passes in certain settings.
They said Plan B would only be introduced “if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS”.
Responding to Paterson’s question, Javid said: “That is perfectly consistent with what the prime minister said yesterday and what I said yesterday, because what we said was that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers – when they are with people that they are not normally spending time with.”
“So you expect the Conservative backbenchers to be wearing masks at PMQs later today?” asked Paterson. During Wednesday’s session, the majority were not wearing masks.
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The minister replied: “They’re not strangers. Conservative backbenchers, whether they’re in Parliament, in the Chamber itself, or in the other meeting rooms…”
Paterson followed-up with an additional question: “Can you not catch Covid from your friends?”
“You have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of Covid at the time,” Javid said, before adding that the messaging on masks has been “consistent throughout”.
Seemingly forgetting that even friends can pass on the virus to others, the health secretary’s comments have been met with shock and astonishment by Twitter users online:
"They're not strangers!" Important public health update: you can't catch Covid from people you know, Health Secret… https://t.co/mKm8WomN5X