THE UK Health Secretary has been forced to explain why Tory ministers have ditched face masks at crowded Cabinet meetings.

Sajid Javid suggested the lack of face coverings was deemed safe because the attendees, including the Prime Minister and around 40 senior Conservatives, all knew each other.

On the agenda at the Cabinet meeting, held on Tuesday afternoon, was fresh guidance on the use of face coverings.

Javid was quizzed about the absence of masks after Number 10 published pictures from the meeting showing ministers crammed in for a meeting with the PM.

He was asked on Sky News why no-one was wearing a covering in the crowded, “poorly ventilated” room.

The Health Secretary insisted it was “perfectly consistent” with the advice given by the Prime Minister because Cabinet members all know each other.

“What we said was people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with.”

It was put to the minister that Tory MPs on the backbenches will not be wearing masks either during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.

Javid again justified that, adding: “They’re not strangers.”

The presenter interrupted: “Can you not catch Covid from friends?”

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The Conservative minister replied: “You have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of Covid at the time.”

He pointed to the vaccine rollout, testing and the “sensible use of masks when required”, the policy on which he insisted “has been consistent throughout”.

Conservative MPs were last week accused of being “cavalier” with the health of other parliamentarians because they have stopped wearing masks in the Commons.

The SNP’s shadow Commons leader Pete Wishart warned there was an “increased risk” from Covid in the chamber, and called for all MPs to continue to wear masks to protect one another.

But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg defended his colleagues’ decision not to wear face coverings, saying MPs were “right to make a judgment for themselves”.

When the chamber was full at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, only a small minority of Conservative MPs including former PM Theresa May wore masks, while a majority of MPs on the opposition benches did.