Shutting the Houses of Parliament during a coronavirus outbreak ‘could fuel panic and paralyse the UK’
- EXCLUSIVE: Officials warn that Parliament must set an example on coronavirus
- Fears if Palace of Westminster closes its doors rest of the country would follow
- Government has unveiled ‘battle plan’ to combat the spread of the killer disease
Shutting down the Houses of Parliament during a coronavirus outbreak could fuel panic and paralyse the UK, officials have warned.
Concerns were raised about the signal that would be sent by closing the doors during a meeting of Parliamentary officials on the response to the disease yesterday.
There were warnings that the rest of the country would ‘take its lead’ from the heart of British democracy.
Boris Johnson has published the government’s ‘battle plan’ for dealing with a major outbreak in the UK, which experts believe is increasingly likely.
The measures include urging people to avoid social contact as much as possible for an estimated three months until the crisis peaks, with employees advised to work from home.
Concerns were raised about the signal that would be sent by closing the doors at the Palace of Westminster during a meeting about the rising threat from the disease yesterday
The PM stressed that the plans were ‘reasonable’ and would only be triggered if the situation escalates dramatically – a scenario where experts say one in five workers could be off sick.
It emerged at the weekend that there had been discussion with the Commons authorities over a contingency plan where the government would use emergency powers to battle a pandemic, while MPs and peers are told to stay away.
According to the Mail on Sunday. a Cabinet minister suggested it would be madness for MPs to continue to meet in such circumstances, describing them as potential ‘virus super-spreaders’ as they travelled to and from their constituencies.
Thousands of staff, officials and reporters work on the Parliamentary estate alongside politicians.
The European Parliament has already announced restrictions on its ‘non-core’ activities for three weeks – such as visits, events, hearings, and seminars.
At the meeting to discuss the UK Parliamentary response yesterday, alarm was expressed at the idea of shutting the doors.
Senior officials pointed out there was a ‘different level of responsibility’ for the Palace of Westminster compared to other workplaces.
‘If Parliament were to shut the whole nation would take its lead from that and shut,’ once source told MailOnline.
‘Everybody has to consider the possibility that day might come. But we are a long way from it.
‘Parliament needs to stick exactly in line with Public Health England guidance, because if it does anything that goes beyond that guidance everybody else will copy them.’
It emerged last night that the NHS had declared a ‘Level Four’ incident, the highest level of alert, as officials brace for a surge in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.
Hospitals have been advised to postpone treatment where possible and treat patients at home, or in the community to ease pressure on beds.
Boris Johnson (centre) unveiled the government’s coronavirus ‘battle plan’ yesterday alongside chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty (left), and chief scientific office Sir Patrick Vallance (right)
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