Sajid Javid has been urged to apologise for suggesting that people have been "cowering" from Covid-19.
The health secretary said on Saturday the government's policy of removing regulations was a case of learning to "live with, rather than cower from, this virus".
Mr Javid is an avid devotee of fringe American philosopher Ayn Rand, who presented man as a "heroic being" who should reject altruism and pursue its own interests at all costs.
Opposition parties branded the health secretary's comments were "outrageous" while a victim's group said he was being "deeply insensitive".
Some clinically vulnerable people are still shielding from the virus by completely minimising contact.
Cowering means to recoil or shrink from something because they are afraid, and has negative connotations.
Liberal Democrat spokesperson Munira Wilson said: "His careless words have insulted every man, woman and child who has followed the rules and stayed at home to protect others.
"He owes them all, especially the millions who are shielding, an apology."
Meanwhile Labour's shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: "129,000 Brits have died from Covid under your government's watch. Don't denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe."
Labour MP Yvette Cooper said: "129,000 people who died didn’t cower, they fought for their lives. Frontline workers didn’t cower, they kept calm and carried on. Millions in lockdown didn’t cower, they followed your rules & made sacrifices for others"
She added that people should “never treat illness as weakness".
Co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Jo Goodman said Mr Javid's comments were "deeply insensitive on a number of levels".
She added: "Words matter and the flippancy and carelessness of this comment has caused deep hurt and further muddied the waters of the government's dangerously mixed messaging."
Mr Javid, who worked as a banking executive in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, replaced Matt Hancock as health secretary last month after the latter politician stood down amid revelations he broke social distancing while conducting an extramarital affair.
The new health secretary made the comments while announcing he had recovered from Covid-19, which he tested positive for a week ago.
His “cowering” claim comes as the government this week lifted all remaining legal restrictions on day-to-day life related to Covid-19.
Boris Johnson has claimed the move is irreversible.
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