Florida senator has frequently criticised public health messaging around the coronavirus, while getting vaccinated himself
In a new twist on a familiar genre, US Senator Marco Rubio trolled Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for his Covid behaviour, not for being reckless or skipping a mask, but rather for wearing one on a recent trip to the Philippines.
The Florida Republican dubbed Mr Austin’s protocols, which included a mask and a face shield, “embarrassing COVID theatre.” “Our [Secretary of Defense] is vaccinated,” Mr Rubio wrote on Twitter. “But he arrives in the Philippines wearing a mask AND a face shield. Embarrassing COVID theatre.”
As Politico defence editor Dave Brown reported, the military official, who stepped onto the tarmac and fist-bumped his Philippines counterparts, was actually following the country’s Covid guidelines.
“The Philippine government has mandated that everyone must wear full-coverage face shields together with face masks while in public places,” according to the US Embassy in the Philippines. “Local governments continue to implement additional requirements to slow the virus’ spread.”
Other journalists traveling with the secretary confirmed these rules.
“We were told prior to arrival in Manila that the Philippines required everyone getting off @SecDef ‘s plane to wear a mask and face shield,” Voice of America Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb wrote on Thursday on Twitter. “I am traveling with Austin as a member of the press and had to wear both as well. #COVID19 cases are surging here.”
The Florida conservative has been a sceptic of public health messaging throughout the pandemic, and caught heat in December after getting vaccinated while also claiming Dr Anthony Fauci “lied about masks” and was “distorting the level of vaccination needed for herd immunity.”
More recently, Mr Rubio has criticised mask mandates, even as the Delta variant surges, particularly in conservative states with low masking and vaccination rates.
“Government SHOULD encourage vaccination & make them available,” the senator wrote on Thursday on Twitter. “Government SHOULD NOT force anyone to get vaccinated, punish those who refuse or use a mask mandate to make everyone angry at the unvaccinated.”
The Independent has reached out to Mr Rubio for comment.