A group of Conservative MPs have continued to shun mask-wearing in the House of Commons, despite tougher measures for the public in response to the new Omicron variant.
Face coverings will be compulsory on public transport and in shops in England from Tuesday.
But a handful of backbench Tories appeared maskless in the Commons chamber on Monday, with one openly shouting his opposition to pleas from Labour MPs to put one on and another suggesting the wearing of face coverings to provide protection from the virus is “mumbo jumbo”.
Face coverings are already compulsory for staff, contractors and journalists but not MPs, although they were earlier this month advised to wear them.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said: “We support the decision to introduce masks on public transport and in shops, but we believe this should never have been abandoned in the first place.
“Keeping masks in place would always have been our Plan A.
“Will the Secretary of State extend the use of masks to hospitality and other settings or does Covid not spread in pubs?”
Labour MP Peter Kyle (Hove) could be heard shouting at the unmasked Tory MPs to “put it on”, with Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) replying: “No.”
Dr Allin-Khan added: “If masks had been mandatory, it’d have been harder for this new variant to spread.”
She said the Government’s “flip-flopping on masks has created confusion” across schools, colleges and universities before adding: “The Prime Minister is not the best person to tell people to wear masks when he can’t even be bothered to wear one himself when he goes into a hospital full of vulnerable patients.
“And can I ask the Secretary of State when Conservative backbenchers will start wearing their masks?”
Tory MP Mr Shelbrooke could be heard shouting: “When we have to.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid, in his reply, said: “I do think the honourable lady has misjudged the tone of the House.
“This is a very serious matter and I think the whole country would be looking for all members of this House to work together and to support the nation.
“Surely she isn’t blaming the UK Government for the emergence of this new variant.
“I feel she was perhaps re-auditioning for the reshuffle that’s going on in her party right now.”
Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said: “Over the last few months there has been a useful controlled experiment on face coverings given the different policies pursued in Scotland and England. What estimate has he made of the result? It’s mumbo jumbo isn’t it?”
The Health Secretary said that if Sir Desmond “is suggesting that there are mixed views on the efficacy of face coverings in helping to fight this pandemic, he would be right”.
But Mr Javid said there are reports which show “in certain settings how face coverings can help”.