Doctors condemn ‘shocking’ Sajid Javid for saying ministers do not need face coverings in cabinet

By Andrew Woodcock

The British Medical Association has blasted “shocking” irresponsibility by government ministers after health secretary Sajid Javid said there was no need for them to wear masks in cabinet.

The head of the doctors’ organisation hit out after Mr Javid defended pictures of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, at which not a single minister had his or her face covered.

The health secretary said that their action was “perfectly consistent” with prime minister Boris Johnson’s advice that people should consider using face coverings when they are in crowded places with “strangers”.

But BMA chair Chaand Nagpaul said that the health secretary and other ministers were showing a “shocking” lack of responsibility at a time when Covid-19 infections are running at an average of 35,000 a day.

The winter plan for coronavirus unveiled by Mr Johnson on Tuesday puts the onus on individuals to show personal responsibility in taking the actions to damp down the outbreak, with mandatory face-masks kept as an option in reserve.

Mr Javid himself forced Mr Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak into self-isolation earlier this year when he held a meeting with them in Downing Street unaware that he had been infected with the virus.

But asked about this week’s maskless meeting, he told Sky News: “That is perfectly consistent with what the prime minister said yesterdayt, and what I said yesterday, because what we said is 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.”

Dr Nagpaul 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.”

And he added: “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.

“This is far from the truth and the evidence shows that in no uncertain terms.”

The weekly average of over 35,000 new cases a day is 10 times higher than this time last year, while 1,000 Covid patients are on ventilators compared to 115 patients at the same time in 2020, said Dr Nagpaul.

“We’re seeing deaths at a very high rate compared to this time last year, and we have over 8,000 people in hospital beds with Covid-19 – the highest since during the lockdown in spring,” he said.

“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”

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