British Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday defended ministers and MPs not wearing face coverings in Parliament and offices, saying it’s “perfectly consistent” with government guidelines.
Legal requirements in England on mask-wearing and social distancing ended on July 19, when the nation moved into the fourth and final stage of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Current guidance advises people to “wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet”—advice reiterated in the government’s COVID-19 autumn and winter plan published on Tuesday.
Ministers and Tory MPs, most of whom are seen not wearing masks indoors, have been accused of not adhering to the Conservative government’s own advice.
Interviewing Javid on Wednesday, Sky News journalist Niall Paterson showed the health minister a photo showing unmasked Cabinet ministers and staff around a desk, and asked him why “not one person” was wearing a mask on the day that the government advised people to wear masks.
Javid defended his Cabinet colleagues, saying their choice is “perfectly consistent with” what he and Johnson had said before.
“Because what we said was 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,” he said.
Asked if he expected the Conservative backbenchers to wear masks later in the House of Commons chamber, the minister responded, “No, they’re not strangers.”
A visible divide in lawmakers’ attitudes towards mask-wearing has been clear ever since a full-capacity House of Commons convened for the first time in 18 months on Aug. 18—when MPs were recalled from their summer recess to discuss the urgent situation in Afghanistan.
The opposition side of the chamber is often filled with mostly masked MPs, with a few exceptions, while unmasked MPs are the majority on the Conservative side.
Asked if the ministers believe people can’t catch COVID-19 from their friends, Javid said, “You have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of COVID at the time.”
The government’s new autumn and winter plan to manage the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic includes pushing its vaccination programme further, other treatments for COVID-19, test and trace, investment in the NHS, advising people on voluntary measures, border control, and helping vaccinate the world.
But more coercive measures, such as vaccine passports and mask mandates in certain settings, have been kept as a plan B, which will be triggered when the ministers believe the NHS risks “unsustainable pressure.”