BMA Council says Health Secretary’s public health comments are risking increasing Covid infections and NHS pressures

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Last reviewed: 15 September 2021

Members of the BMA's UK Council have today expressed dismay at the Secretary of State's public health messaging on COVID-19 following his comments that Ministers didn't need to wear face masks in Cabinet meetings because they were not, 'strangers.'

This morning, at a meeting of the BMA's UK Council, doctors' leaders said they were deeply concerned by Sajid Javid's comments that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places only when, "They were with strangers" and, "When they are with people they are not normally spending time with." There has also been widespread criticism from other political parties of Conservative MPs not wearing face coverings in the Commons chamber, after Downing Street released a photo of a cabinet meeting where more than 30 people were packed tightly together but not one with their face covered.

The BMA Chair of Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:

"As the Government’s own health advisors 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.

"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. A weekly average of over 35,000 new cases a day is 10 times higher than this time last year. We are seeing over 1,000 patients with COVID, now on ventilators; there were just 115 patients on ventilators this time last year, so people are seriously ill. 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 for since during the lockdown in Spring.

"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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Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.