Coronavirus crisis: Government announces plans for virtual parliament

THE GOVERNMENT has announced plans to set up a virtual parliament which will allow MPs to fulfil some of their roles as the coronavirus pandemic continues, it has been claimed.

In a letter on Wednesday to the Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle urged the government to consider implementing such a plan as a way for MPs to ask questions to government officials.

He wrote that MPs are being ‘swamped’ with questions from distressed constituents, and that “responses to these questions cannot wait for the House to sit again.”

Parliament is currently in recess until April 21 provisionally, after it closed early for Easter amid coronavirus fears.

However, the return date is not set in stone and could be pushed back further if the recess is extended.

In such an event, Sir Hoyle continued: “I am keen that they [MPs] should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually.

“The House Service has already trialled some virtual select committee evidence sessions with witnesses and I have asked officials to investigate how they would apply similar technology to the types of business listed above.”

Such parliamentary proceedings could include Prime Minister’s questions and oral questions to government departments.

Sir Hoyle also urged Mr Rees-Mogg to provide an update as soon as possible on when the House would be set to return.

He wrote: “It would be extremely helpful in the planning of the running of the house … given the growing scale of staff absence whether through social isolation or illness.”

The Guardian claims that Mr Rees-Mogg has said the government would set up such technology in time for April 21, stating that “we are exploring options with the parliamentary authorities in readiness for parliament’s return.”

The government is facing mounting pressure to supply more coronavirus tests as UK deaths and infections continue to grow – the UK most recently announced a record daily increase of 563 deaths due to Covid-19.

Michael Gove has said that there was a shortage of chemicals needed for the tests.

The government recently admitted that just 2,000 of around half a million frontline NHS staff had been tested for the virus so far, though the BBC has claimed that this has risen to 3,500 staff in England and Wales.

As well as causing widespread uncertainty, it means that many NHS staff in isolation cannot get back to work.

UK testing does not compare well to other countries such as Germany, which is administering 70,000 tests per day, the Guardian reports.

Despite this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video yesterday that the government was “massively increasing” testing, stating that it would be “how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle.”

“What we need to do massively ramp up not just tests so that you can know whether you have had the disease in the past – the so-called antibody test – because that will enable you to go to work in the confidence that you can’t be infected or [be] infectious.

He also said that it was important for NHS staff to know whether they haven’t got the virus so that they are not isolating at home for no reason.

The Prime Minister also praised “the miracles of modern technology” in allowing him to keep in touch with various officials.

Meanwhile, the government has shipped 397 million separate pieces of PPE to help NHS staff, the Prime Minister has said.

Source: Read Full Article