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With COVID cases in the UK on the rise, a government minister has insisted it is still right that people “make their own informed, educated judgements” about face coverings.
Health secretary Sajid Javid suggested on Wednesday during a press conference at Downing Street that Tory MPs should be wearing masks in the Commons as he warned further coronavirus restrictions are more likely if face coverings are avoided.
Javid said public figures “have a role to play to set an example”, hours after his colleagues packed into parliament for prime minister’s questions, largely without wearing face coverings.
But health minister Edward Argar told BBC Breakfast on Thursday morning that while guidance for masks was still in place, it was up to individuals to decide whether to wear them or not.
Speaking about mask use in the House of Commons, Argar said: “The chamber is a very big place and I come back to my point which is it’s about colleagues, everyone in society, considering the guidance and forming an informed view.
“I know colleagues will weigh up a number of factors. But that’s a judgment, the whole purpose of where we got to in July was that this is about people, individuals, not just colleagues but people… to be considering the factors and forming their own judgment, and trusting to their judgment and their common sense.
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“That’s why it’s not mandated because we believe that people are best-placed to make those judgments with the information.”
Responding to the health secretary saying MPs “have a role to play to set an example”, Argar added: “I think it’s for those individual members of parliament to read the guidance, consider it, bear in mind what Sajid has said and reach their own views.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, the health secretary repeated his warning that COVID cases could reach 100,000 a day as the country enters a challenging winter period.
He said the UK was seeing “greater pressure” on the NHS but the government will “do what it takes to make sure that this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable, and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed”.
Deaths “remain mercifully low” at the moment, he said, but added: “We’ve always known that the winter months would pose the greatest threat to our road to recovery.”
Javid urged people to have their vaccines, including COVID boosters and jabs for flu, and said: “If we all play our part, then we can give ourselves the best possible chance in this race, get through this winter, and enjoy Christmas with our loved ones.”
As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 49,139 lab-confirmed COVID cases in the UK.
Meanwhile a further 179 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID as of Wednesday, according to government figures.
Hospital admissions stand at 868 on average per day over the last seven days, up from 780 a week earlier, a rise of 11%.
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