Boris Johnson refuses to commit to wearing a face mask in Parliament

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Boris Johnson has refused to commit to wearing a face covering in parliament despite an appeal by health secretary Sajid Javid for Tory MPs to mask up when they are in the House.

One rule for them

After Conservative MPs were seen crammed on the Commons benches, almost all with faces bare, Javid urged them to set an example to the public in order to avoid the need for tighter coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions over the winter. But speaking to reporters during a visit to a vaccination centre in West London, Johnson sidestepped a question about whether he would now wear a mask in Parliament, in line with his own government’s guidance.

Boris Johnson takes Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson in the Commons chamber surrounded by Tory MPs without masks (House of Commons/PA)

He said:

I think there are lots of steps that we need to take to continue to follow the guidance. So commonsensical things, washing your hands, wearing a mask in confined spaces where you are meeting people that you don’t normally meet. That’s sensible.

Undermining public trust

Johnson’s refusal to commit to wearing a mask himself came as scientists advising the government warned the failure of public figures to follow official guidance risks undermining public trust. A paper by the Spi-B group of behavioural scientists noted that a return to mandatory face coverings in public places in England was one of the elements in the government’s Plan B if the situation with the virus worsens over the winter. It noted:

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It would also create expectations for public figures serving as role models to demonstrate adherence in the required settings. Trust can be eroded by unclear and inconsistent messaging (and) government officials and role models not engaging in behaviours in line with guidance.

The paper said there was already “public confusion” over the effectiveness of masks and that a return to mandatory face coverings could lead to “lack of compliance and confrontations”. It added:

Some members of the public may resist reintroduction of mandatory face coverings and changing perceptions of risk may empower anti-authoritarian narratives or prompt public protests

Health Secretary Sajid Javid during a media briefing in Downing Street
Health secretary Sajid Javid appealed to Tory MPs to set an example and wear a mask (Toby Melville/PA)

Another lockdown?

During his visit, Johnson said he saw no need for a return to a full lockdown with shops and other premises closing over the winter, despite coronavirus cases continuing to rise. He said:

I’ve got to tell you at the moment that we see absolutely nothing to indicate that that’s on the cards at all

The PM confirmed consideration was being given to reducing the minimum gap between the second vaccine dose and the booster from six months to five in order to step up the pace.

It is an important question. I think a lot of people are looking at that issue

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