The health secretary has apologised for saying people should no longer “cower from” coronavirus.

Sajid Javid said he had deleted the tweet, which he posted on Saturday to say he had made a “full recovery” a week after testing positive for COVID-19.

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“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,” he said.

“Like many, I have lost loved ones to this awful virus and would never minimise its impact.”

Mr Javid’s initial tweet drew criticism for being 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 the health secretary’s comments were “deeply insensitive on a number of levels”.

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“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 said.

Reacting to the apology, the campaign group said it welcomed Mr Javid’s remarks and repeated an earlier call for him to visit the COVID memorial wall in London with them to “understand the hurt and insult” caused by his “poor choice of word” remains.

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.

“It wasn’t because they were weak, just unnecessarily exposed to a virus,” she said.

In a statement released before Mr Javid’s apology, Labour’s Vicky Foxcroft said his tweet was “offensive and ill-informed”.

“More than 1 in 60 people in the UK are estimated to still be shielding. In the first and second waves more than three million people shielded at the request of the government,” the shadow minister for disabled people said.

“Most have been happy to do this as we know this has kept us safe.”

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.

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