The prime minister received fierce condemnation after photos emerged of him talking with staff at Hexham General Hospital without a protective face covering.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “So not only is Boris Johnson too cowardly to turn up to parliament to defend the sleazy corrupt government shenanigans of recent days. He’s now irresponsibly parading round a hospital without a mask.”
The Lib Dems also accused Mr Johnson of using his hospital trip to avoid scrutiny over sleaze. “Not only did Boris Johnson travel 280 miles to avoid a debate … he couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask while walking around a hospital once he got there,” said a spokesperson.
However, No 10 insisted that Mr Johnson had followed the rules during his visit. The hospital also sought to defend him, saying he had worn a mask in “clinical areas”.
Official guidance for the hospital, which is part of the Northumbria NHS Trust, states: “Anyone attending our hospitals and community settings must continue to wear a face-covering at all times to protect patients, visitors and staff.”
Following the online backlash over the photos, a spokesperson for the trust stated: “The prime minister Boris Johnson followed strict measures, including wearing a mask, in each clinical area he visited.”
The trust also shared photos of the PM wearing a mask in clinical areas. “Please be assured that infection prevention and control remains an utmost priority for our trust,” said the statement.
Asked why Mr Johnson had not worn a mask in some parts of the hospital, his official spokesman said: “I am confident he will have been abiding by the rules in place.”
It follows outrage at the crucial Cop26 summit in Glasgow after Mr Johnson was pictured sitting next to Sir David Attenborough without wearing a mask.
While others around him, including Sir David, were pictured wearing face coverings, the PM wore none.
Asked by CNN why he had chosen not to wear a mask, he responded: “I’ve been, you know, wearing a mask when in confined spaces with people that I don’t normally meet.”
Mr Johnson added: “It’s up to people to make a judgement about whether they’re … whether they’re, you know, at a reasonable distance from someone and whether they’re with someone they don’t normally meet.”
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