The health secretary has defended Conservative MPs who refuse to wear masks in parliament, following criticism of his party’s lax attitude to the safety measure.
Speaking on Wednesday Sajid Javid said masks were just one of a “suite of measures” that could be taken to prevent illness and said many MPs were vaccinated or might be getting regularly tested as an alternative.
Images from the Commons chamber since MPs returned from summer recess show a marked partisan divide on mask-wearing, with the government benches largely unprotected – in contrast to the opposition.
Though masks are no longer a legal requirement, the government still recommends the public wear them for prolonged periods in enclosed spaces with people outside their own household – with parliament fitting the bill exactly.
Asked about the issue in an interview, Mr Javid also declined to tell people to wear masks at the upcoming Conservative party conference, a mass gathering of the party faithful in Manchester kicking off next month.
He also defended a decision not to require people to provide proof of vaccination to attend the mass event.
Asked why Tory MPs seemed so reticent to wear their masks, Mr Javid said there were “circumstances where people should consider wearing masks” and that the “advice hasn’t changed”.
But adding that the government had “got rid of the legal requirements around masks, he told the BBC’s Today programme: “It’s not just one particular measure – masks, for example, and that’s it – there are a suite of measures.
“Your infectiousness for example is affected by whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, it doesn’t mean that, of course, if you’ve been vaccinated that you can’t be infectious, I’m not saying that at all.
“But there’s a suite of measures that should be taken into account. Vaccinations; are you getting regularly tested, especially if you’re visiting vulnerable people; masks are part of the measures.”
Questioned on the lax rules planned for Tory conference, Mr Javid said he was “sure many of [those attending] will wear masks”.
But he stopped short of recommending then, adding: “If they’re meeting with people that are a complete stranger, people will actually choose to do that. But many also will be vaccinated, many will also be been taking tests…”
He added that there was no “need for a vaccine passport given where we are with Covid at this point” but said the policy was there was an option if the pandemic “gets out of control” again.
Anti-mask and anti-lockdown sentiment has been widespread in some Conservative-supporting publications read by MPs since the beginning of the pandemic.
Masks have been recommended in countries around the world as a means of reducing the spread of the virus.
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