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The UK prime minister was seated next to Attenborough at the opening ceremony of the Cop26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow yesterday (1 November).
While others around him, including Attenborough, were pictured wearing face masks in accordance with pandemic safety practices, Johnson – who was also spotted apparently falling asleep – wore none.
Watch: Attenborough urges leaders to turn 'tragedy into triumph'
Johnson has been seen wearing a mask for other parts of the event, however, and the Planet Earth presenter was photographed alongside him without one.
Nonetheless, the photographs of Johnson without a mask have been widely circulated on social media, attracting stern criticism from public figures and fans of Attenborough.
Adil Ray wrote: “Here’s our Prime Minister ‘leading by example’ by sitting without a mask on a global stage in the middle of a pandemic, next to Sir David Attenborough who is 95 years old. If Sir David is, why wouldn’t you?”
The Charlatans singer Tim Burgess wrote: “If you can’t bring yourself to wear a mask while sitting next to 95-year-old David Attenborough, how can you say that you actually care about other people?
“@BorisJohnson you really should be ashamed of yourself.”
If you can’t bring yourself to wear a mask while sitting next to 95 year old David Attenborough, how can you say that you actually care about other people? @BorisJohnson you really should be ashamed of yourself pic.twitter.com/CCpyu0kVEa
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) November 1, 2021
The point of wearing a face mask is mainly to protect those around you. It shows you care for others. Johnson not wearing one, especially sat next to a national treasure like Attenborough says it all. pic.twitter.com/Fq8QO0DcKB
— HappyToast ★ (@IamHappyToast) November 1, 2021
— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) November 2, 2021
“The point of wearing a face mask is mainly to protect those around you. It shows you care for others,” wrote someone else. Johnson not wearing one, especially sat next to a national treasure like Attenborough says it all.”
Labour MP Anna McMorrin wrote: “It’s one thing to show how little you care but quite another sit next to 95-year-old David Attenborough and NOT wear a MASK. #COP26”
Attenborough delivered a speech at the conference, calling on world leaders to take drastic action to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.
You can follow the latest updates from the event here.
Watch: What is COP26 and how will it affect the future of climate change?