Sajid Javid has been criticised for saying people should no longer “cower from” coronavirus.
The health secretary made the comment on Saturday while tweeting that he had made a “full recovery” a week after testing positive for the virus on 17 July.
He added: “Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
But his remarks were criticised as insensitive to those who had stayed home during the pandemic due to health conditions or in an effort to protect others.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Mr Javid’s comments “are deeply insensitive on a number of levels”.
“Not only are they hurtful to bereaved families, implying our loved ones were too cowardly to fight the virus, but they insult all those still doing their best to protect others from the devastation this horrific virus can bring,” she added.
“Words matter and the flippancy and carelessness of this comment has caused deep hurt and further muddied the waters of the government’s dangerously mixed messaging.”
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the remarks would be “painful to read for those who were severely ill” and those who lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“It wasn’t because they were weak, just unnecessarily exposed to a virus,” she said.
“And wanting to avoid getting COVID isn’t ‘cowering’ – it’s being sensible & looking out for others.”
There was also criticism from opposition politicians, with shadow justice secretary David Lammy saying: “129,000 Brits have died from COVID under your government’s watch.
“Don’t denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe.”
Liberal Democrats health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “(Mr Javid’s) careless words have insulted every man, woman and child who has followed the rules and stayed at home to protect others.
“He owes them all, especially the millions who are shielding, an apology.”
Mr Javid replaced Matt Hancock as health secretary in June, after Mr Hancock resigned following the publication of CCTV footage that showed him kissing an aide in breach of coronavirus restrictions.