Former Tory health minister Edwina Currie has been condemned for comparing Boris Johnson’s decision to shake hand with Covid patients to Princess Diana’s efforts to remove stigma surrounding people living with HIV.
The prime minister’s actions in the early weeks of the pandemic have come under renewed scrutiny ahead of the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown.
Mr Johnson was told by advisers to discourage the public from shaking hands ahead of a 3 March press conference – only to boast he “shook hands with everybody” when visiting Covid patients in hospital, according to a BBC report.
Defending Mr Johnson, Ms Currie likened the move to Diana’s visit to an HIV hospital in London in 1989. “The prime minister shook hands as a reflection of what Diana did during the HIV problems,” she told Good Morning Britain.
“When Diana went into the hospitals in order to shake hands with patients and say to them, ‘you are not being stigmatised’, that, I think, is what he was doing.”
Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV & sexual health charity, said the comparison was “offensive” – making clear that Diana had helped tackle misinformation rather than promote it.
A spokesperson said: “Please don’t. Lazy comparisons between HIV and Covid-19 are misguided and offensive.
“Princess Diana shook hands with and hugged people with HIV to *educate*. To show the world the virus can’t be passed on through touch at a time when hysteria was rife. It is not the same.”
Diana’s visit to the Mildmay hospital in east London, during which she met with HIV patients and shook their hands, was seen as a landmark moment in changing public perception and removing the stigma around both HIV and Aids.
Ms Currie, health minister under Margaret Thatcher’s government between 1986 and 1988, clashed with GMB host Susanna Reid on Wednesday and sought to defend Mr Johnson’s handling of the initial Covid crisis.
“This time last year absolutely nobody in this country, or in other countries, had any experience of anything like this,” said Ms Currie. “We had no idea it was so lethal. We did our best.”
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