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Leading doctors have expressed dismay over comments made by the Health Secretary about mask wearing.
Sajid Javid, who has retained his position as Health Secretary in the Cabinet reshuffle, said the Government’s advice was that people should consider wearing face coverings when they were gathered in a crowded space with people they did not normally mix with.
Mr Javid said a photograph of the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, showing ministers around the table with their faces uncovered, was consistent with that advice.
And Tory MPs do not need to wear masks in the Commons because they are not “strangers”, he added.
But the British Medical Association (BMA) said that the remarks “send a message that the pandemic is over”.
The BMA said that ministers should be “leading by example”.
Mr Javid told Sky News: “What we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with.”
Asked about Conservative MPs who were not wearing masks when he made his statement in the Commons, he said: “They are not strangers.
“Conservative backbenchers, whether they are in Parliament, in the chamber itself or other meeting rooms, you have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of Covid at the time.”
Addressing the remarks, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council at the BMA said: “As the Government’s own health advisers recognise, we are at a critical moment in the development of the pandemic.
“For a Government which has extolled the importance of personal responsibility to show so little personal responsibility themselves is quite shocking.
“Ministers should be leading by example.
“Covid-19 is no less likely to pass between loved ones and friends than it is between strangers; it doesn’t discriminate.
“Evidence suggests that transmission within households has been a major feature of the pandemic.
“What is even worse is the dangerous message these comments and photographs send out to all of us as members of the public, a message that says the pandemic is over, life can go back to as it was before, and all will be well.”
Dr Nagpaul highlighted that there are thousands of new Cobod-19 cases every day and Covid-19 patients occupying more than 8,000 hospital beds.
He added: “The vaccination programme is making a huge difference, but it cannot work in isolation.
“Wearing face masks in enclosed crowded spaces together with adequate ventilation in shops, schools and offices are also important measures in the fight to overcome this virus.
“The Health Secretary and ministers desperately need to recognise the reality of the virus and lead by example.”
Since Parliament resumed full sittings there has been a stark difference between the number of MPs wearing masks on the Opposition benches and on the Conservative side of the House.
During his Commons statement on Tuesday, Mr Javid was heckled by Opposition MPs pointing out his unmasked colleagues as he suggested people should wear a face covering in “crowded, enclosed spaces where you can come into contact with people that you don’t normally meet”.
Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings branded the Health Secretary “trainwreck Saj” for suggesting that “MPs dont (sic) need masks cos ‘theyre (sic) not strangers'”.
The former No 10 adviser, who argued for tighter lockdown measures in autumn 2020, mocked the Government’s Plan B policy of extra restrictions only coming in when the situation was already “out of control”.