politics

Tory MPs go mask-free in debate on ordering public to wear face coverings


Masks have been made mandatory in shops and on public transport again among measures to tackle the Omicron variant

Some Tory MPs were still refusing to wear masks in the Commons – during a debate on regulations to make face coverings compulsory in shops and on public transport.

A string of backbenchers declined to don a face covering during a tetchy debate on new Covid regulations to battle the spread of the new Omicron variant.

New measures include the mandatory use of face coverings in shops and on public transport and PCR tests for all international arrivals from 4am on Tuesday.

At one point in the debate the Mirror counted 14 Tories without masks and 14 wearing them – while three Labour MPs and one Lib Dem MP all had their masks on.

MPs usually remove their face coverings to speak in the Commons and it is worth noting that some may have reasons exempting them from wearing them.

But a number of Tory backbenchers made it clear they were unhappy with the imposition of new restrictions.

SNP frontbencher Dr Philippa Whitford accused the Government of undermining its own mask advice in recent months by failing to wear them in Parliament.







MPs debated the new Covid regulations in the Commons
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Image:

Parliament TV)

Since July, masks have not been mandatory but the guidance recommended people wear them in busy indoor spaces.

“That guidance has been undermined by the demonstration on television every day of members of the Government benches,” she said.

“People will be led by example, not just the Prime Minister’s but others.”

Boris Johnson’s failure to wear a mask during a visit to Hexham General Hospital earlier this month has made it more unlikely that people will obey new mask rules, according to Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper.

She said: “One of the major problems being faced by GPs in my constituency of St Albans is that some people are refusing to wear masks because they quote ‘that the Prime Minister didn’t have to when he went to a hospital’.

“Can I ask the minister how she intends to lead by example when half of her own colleagues are still refusing to wear masks on the benches opposite?”







Boris Johnson was repeatedly told to wear a mask on a visit to Hexham General Hospital
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Image:

POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said: “We are mandating the use of face coverings. I think we are in a different situation in regards to that.”

She later defended the mask mandate, saying: “The broader data shows that even non-medical masks such as cloth masks made of two or three layers may have similar filtration efficiency to surgical masks.”

In a testy debate, Tory backbenchers lined up to express fury at the boss of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), who called on people to limit socialising in the run up to Christmas.

Dr Jenny Harries said the public could slow the spread of the new Omicron variant by reducing their social contacts.

But she was slapped down by the PM’s spokesman, who said: “No. Our advice to the public is as set out at the weekend.

“We have put advice out on face coverings and on inward travellers and those who are identified as having the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“Beyond that we haven’t set out any further guidance to the public.”

Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup faced repeated questions from angry backbenchers on the remarks,

Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne said: “Will she deprecate those public appointees who, not withstanding the clear proportionate advice of the chief scientific adviser, have been out on the air waves telling people that they shouldn’t socialise, to the huge detriment of people’s wellbeing and industries struggling to recover from earlier lockdowns?”

Ms Throup replied: “We all do enjoy socialising but as (he) will appreciate that we are in a difficult situation at the moment, but we have personal responsibility as well.”

Influential backbencher Steve Baker said the Government was “facing chaos”.

He asked the minister: “Is she seriously saying that it is not for ministers to have any particular view on officials employed within the department going out and taking a position which is at odds with the Government’s public policy decision?

“Because if that really is now the policy we have got, that even employees of departments can take their own personal positions, we really are facing chaos and the overturning of longstanding Government principles.”

Ms Throup said: “I would like to reiterate that I do not speak for other people but what I am doing today is putting out the measures that we have implemented as of this morning in a timely fashion and it is the measures that we are considering today and from the Government’s point of view this is the legislation we are implementing.”

MPs will vote on the regulations later, which have already come into force under emergency Covid powers.

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