British health secretary Sajid Javid apologised for saying it was time to stop "cowering" from Covid, after an outcry from families bereaved by the virus.
On Saturday, the Conservative politician said on Twitter that he had recovered from coronavirus, which he contracted despite having had two doses of the vaccine. “Please – if you haven’t yet – get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” he said.
His use of the word “cower” sparked a backlash, with Mr Javid accused of failing to understand the concerns of those whose underlying conditions make them particularly vulnerable to the virus – or who have lost loved ones.
On Sunday, after the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice called the remark insensitive, and urged Mr Javid to meet them at the Covid memorial wall, he issued an apology and said he had deleted the tweet. “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,” Mr Javid said.
“Like many, I have lost loved ones to this awful virus and would never minimise its impact.”
The Labour Party joined condemnation of Mr Javid's language. The shadow disabilities minister Vicky Foxcroft said: "In the first and second waves more than three million people shielded at the request of the government. Most have been happy to do this as we know this has kept us safe. These people aren't cowering away from the virus, they are just trying to stay safe."
Mr Javid's arrival as health secretary appeared to mark a more bullish phase in the government's management of the disease, in which ministers have pressed ahead with lifting almost all legal restrictions despite rapidly increasing cases. Within days of arriving in his post, after the departure of Matt Hancock, Mr Javid claimed the lifting of restrictions would be "irreversible" and there was "no going back". The word "irreversible" has since disappeared from the government's messaging, however, amid careful monitoring of the impact of the "exit wave" as restrictions are lifted. New cases of the virus have declined, with 286,863 in the past seven days, down 4.5 per cent on a week earlier – though the impact of "freedom day", when nightclubs reopened and mass events went ahead – appears unlikely to have shown up in the figures yet.