Sajid Javid has apologised for suggesting that the nation should not “cower” from coronavirus in remarks that were branded insensitive by bereaved families and opposition MPs.
On Sunday, the health secretary deleted the tweet in which he made the offending comment, conceding it “was a poor choice of word and I sincerely apologise”.
He made the original comment on Twitter on Saturday as he announced he had made a “full recovery” from a Covid-19 infection and said his “symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines”, of which he has received two doses.
“Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” he added.
Javid was forced to apologise after Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice joined MPs in branding his “cower” remark as insulting to people who have shielded and those who stayed at home to protect society.
On Sunday, he tweeted: “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.”
Jo Goodman, a co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group which later welcomed the deletion, had said Javid’s original comment was “deeply insensitive on a number of levels”.
“Not only are they hurtful to bereaved families, implying our loved ones were too cowardly to fight the virus, but they insult all those still doing their best to protect others from the devastation this horrific virus can bring,” 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.”
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy questioned use of the word cower, as did Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.
Lammy wrote: “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.”
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said Javid’s tweet was “outrageous” while thousands remain in hospital with Covid-19.
“His careless words have insulted every man, woman and child who has followed the rules and stayed at home to protect others,” she said in a statement.
“He owes them all, especially the millions who are shielding, an apology.”
Public health expert Devi Sridhar said his remarks would be “painful to read for those who were severely ill” and those who lost loved ones to Covid-19.
The professor at the University of Edinburgh wrote: “It wasn’t because they were weak, just unnecessarily exposed to a virus.
“And wanting to avoid getting Covid isn’t ‘cowering’ – it’s being sensible & looking out for others.”
Javid received a positive test result on July 17 for a coronavirus infection that ultimately sent Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak into isolation as his close contacts.
Johnson’s quarantine in his Chequers country residence is expected to finish at the end of Monday, as is Sunak’s.
The pair initially tried to avoid isolation by saying they were taking part in a testing pilot, but backed down in the face of widespread public criticism.
Javid replaced Matt Hancock as health secretary last month when the scandal-hit predecessor stood down amid public outrage after leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing an aide in breach of coronavirus social distancing rules.
The new health secretary has been seen as more strongly in favour of lifting coronavirus restrictions and most remaining legal rules in England were ended last Monday.