Parliament has stepped up measures to limit the spread of coronavirus as many MPs continue to shun masks in the Commons chamber.
MPs should begin social distancing in parliamentary committees and their staff should work from home, new guidance says, amid a rise in coronavirus cases in Westminster.
The House of Commons has instructed chairs of select committees to enforce social distancing in their meetings after a health and safety body ruled that the risk of Covid transmission had increased.
All employees on the parliamentary estate, including MPs’ researchers, journalists and external contractors, must now wear masks.
Recent increases in cases
The UK Health Security Agency has determined the risk of transmission of Covid-19 on the parliamentary estate has increased.
New measures include the cancellation of non-parliamentary business activity such as tours, and banqueting activity at the Palace of Westminster.
Face coverings are already compulsory for staff, contractors and journalists – although not MPs – and chairs of meetings will be urged to take a stronger role in ensuring compliance with the rule.
A parliamentary spokesman said: “The House’s priority is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated.
“There have been recent increases in Covid-19 across the country and these are also being reflected in Parliament.
“The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has determined that the risk of transmission on the parliamentary estate is now greater.
“As a consequence, some further action is being taken to ensure that case numbers do not continue to rise. The measures will be reviewed in two weeks’ time.”
Last week, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg defended not wearing a face mask by arguing regular testing shows he is not “spewing Covid” in the chamber.
He has previously claimed that Tory MPs’ “convivial, fraternal spirit” meant they did not need to mask up because the advice to wear a covering only applied in crowded spaces with people you do not normally mix with.
Most MPs on the Opposition benches wear masks, but many Conservatives still refuse to don a face covering in the chamber.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was forced to miss Prime Minister’s Questions and the Budget debate after testing positive for Covid-19 last week.
His self-isolation period continues and deputy leader Angela Rayner will stand in for him at Wednesday’s session with Boris Johnson.
Despite the concerns of the spread of the virus on the parliamentary estate, the City of Westminster as a whole has the second-lowest rate of coronavirus cases in the UK.