- The UK Parliament could be shut down for five months as the novel coronavirus spreads more quickly across the country.
- Parliamentary authorities fear that British members of Parliament could act as “super-spreaders” because of their widespread travel across the country.
- Thirty-six new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the UK on Wednesday, the biggest daily jump since the virus arrived in the country, taking the total number of infected patients to 87.
- Britain’s chief medical officer has said an epidemic in the UK has become highly likely, with deaths from COVID-19 expected.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The UK Parliament could be shut down for five months to stop British lawmakers from becoming “super-spreaders” of the novel coronavirus.
As major firms begin to shut down offices, parliamentary authorities are drawing up plans that would see the House of Lords and the House of Commons suspended after Parliament’s scheduled Easter break, The Times reported Thursday.
Under the proposals being considered, members of Parliament and peers would rise March 31 and not return until September, an unprecedented five-month break.
Parliament could be at particular risk from becoming a hotbed of coronavirus transmission because the UK’s 650 members of Parliament routinely travel across the country to and from their constituencies, as well as congregating in Parliament and interacting in close proximity.
“We’ve got 650 people who spend half the week spread across the country meeting their constituents and the other half rubbing up against one another in Westminster,” one source told The Times. “It’s 650 super-spreaders.”
Chris Whitty, Britain’s chief medical officer, told MPs on Thursday that there were “particular peculiarities” of the UK Parliament that would need to be considered, including the older age profile of members of the House of Lords.
“One of the bits of advice we will issue once this starts to run is for people who are older or have preexisting conditions to have some degree of isolation from more public environments,” he said.
“We may make some advice that people who are older citizens or have preexisting health conditions to avoid crowded areas including this area, and that might affect individual MPs and individual members of the House of Lords.”
A senior UK government source told Business Insider on Wednesday that the decision on whether to close Parliament would ultimately be a matter for parliamentary authorities but added that any lengthy closing would have risks.
“There are social risks to this,” the person said. “If it closes, then it could be for a long time, and there are risks about the signal that this sends to the country. But ultimately this will be led by the science.”
Thirty-six new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the UK on Wednesday, the biggest daily jump since the virus arrived in the country, raising the total number of infected patients in the country to 87.
Five of the new cases caught the infection within the UK, suggesting the virus could already be spreading across the country.
As new cases were confirmed Wednesday, businesses in London and across the UK sent employees home and shut down their offices.
Sony, which has an office in London’s Soho, said it had closed for the rest of the week “out of an abundance of caution.” Nike’s headquarters in the same area, which houses about 150 staff, has also closed for deep cleaning across three floors.
The closings came after the accountancy firm Deloitte closed an office in the City of London, the capital’s financial district, after one of its employees returned from Asia and tested positive for COVID-19.
The government is considering a range of responses, which could include banning large gatherings, urging people to cancel social events, or cancelling routine NHS operations to free up beds for virus patients.