Sajid Javid has provoked a wave of anger from families of the victims of Covid after he said people must no longer “cower” from the virus.
The health secretary announced on Saturday that he had made a “full recovery” from Covid-19 after falling ill eight days ago, and said: “Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Jo Goodman, the co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Javid’s “comments are deeply insensitive on a number of levels”.
“Not only are they hurtful to bereaved families, implying our loved ones were too cowardly to fight the virus, but they insult all those still doing their best to protect others from the devastation this horrific virus can bring,” she said.
Labour accused him of denigrating people who followed the rules to protect others, while the Lib Dems told him to apologise to those who have shielded because they are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, called into question the health secretary’s use of the word cower, in words echoed by the Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner.
“129,000 Brits have died from Covid under your government’s watch,” Lammy wrote. “Don’t denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe.”
The Lib Dem’s health spokesperson, Munira Wilson, said Javid’s tweet was “outrageous” while thousands remain in hospital with Covid.
“His careless words have insulted every man, woman and child who has followed the rules and stayed at home to protect others,” she said in a statement. “He owes them all, especially the millions who are shielding, an apology.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said: “‘Cower from this virus.’ Really. The job of government is to keep people safe. To show empathy with folk. To seek to protect people when necessary. This is not acceptable. You might want to reflect and think about your role as health secretary in England.”
Ministers have been criticised over the past weeks for undermining the public health campaign against Covid by giving mixed messages about the virus.
Public health expert Devi Sridhar said his remarks would be “painful to read for those who were severely ill” and those who lost loved ones to Covid-19. The University of Edinburgh professor wrote: “It wasn’t because they were weak, just unnecessarily exposed to a virus.
“And wanting to avoid getting Covid isn’t ‘cowering’ – it’s being sensible and looking out for others.”
Javid tested positive on 17 July for a coronavirus infection that ultimately sent Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak into isolation as contacts. They are due to finish quarantine on Monday.