Boris Johnson’s new health secretary has apologised for saying people had been “cowering” from Covid-19 by following earlier restrictions.
Sajid Javid admitted to a “poor choice of words” and said he did not mean to minimise the impact of the pandemic.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats accused the Cabinet minister of “offensive and ill-informed comments” and noted that 1 in 60 peple in the UK were still estimated to be shielding for medical reasons.
“I’ve deleted a tweet which used the word ‘cower’,” Mr Javid said in a statement on Sunday.
“I was expressing gratitude that the vaccines help us fight back as a society, but it was a poor choice of word and I sincerely apologise.
“Like many, I have lost loved ones to this awful virus and would never minimise its impact.”
Mr Javid’s apology bookends a torrid week for the government, which kicked off with a U-turn by the prime minister over whether he needed to follow self-isolation rules.
Polls released over the weekend saw the Tory lead over opposition parties cut, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Greens all up.
The minister, a former banker, was appointed to replace Matt Hancock to oversee the NHS and public health measures during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock had resigned after revelations that he broke social distancing rules in the course of conducting an extramarital affair.
Mr Javid had claimed on Saturday that the government’s policy of removing regulations was a case of learning to “live with, rather than cower from, this virus”.
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