Sajid Javid did not win over any fans after backing the cabinet’s decision not to wear masks in a crowded meeting, when he was in interview on Wednesday.
Questioned about a photograph released by No.10 on Tuesday where between 30 and 40 maskless ministers are crowded together, Javid claimed it was “perfectly consistent” with the prime minister’s advice.
The health secretary alleged the current guidance was “masks should be considered in crowded places amongst strangers”.
In his plan to deal with Covid in the coming months, Boris Johnson revealed this week that the public should be engaging in self-protective measures, including wearing masks in high risk or crowded places.
The health secretary’s comments also followed repeated warnings from scientific experts that face masks should be worn to decrease a winter spike in Covid infections.
Javid was questioned about the maskless backbencher Conservatives who have been seen attending large meetings in the Commons, too.
The health secretary replied: “They’re not strangers.”
It’s safe to say Javid’s comments did not go down well online.
Journalist Kevin Maguire tweeted: “It’s fine for Tory MPs to sit mask without without masks very close to 364 friends, says the health secretary.
“I doubt his chief medical officer would agree.”
Another Twitter user wrote: “So...is the implication that Covid [is] less likely to be caught from a close contact that is a friend or colleague? Virus will be delighted at this coverage.”
Labour’s shadow cabinet minister, Jonathan Reynolds, also told Sky News that this was an example of the government’s “complacency”.
He said: “My biggest take of yesterday was seeing the health secretary talk about how we might have to ask people wear masks in enclosed spaces, in the workplace, surrounded by Conservative MPs, none of them wearing a mask, just gives me the sense of the complacency that I feel is sometimes too great a feature of the government.”