Hundreds of MPs told to stay out of PMQs to slow spread of coronavirus

Hundreds of MPs were today told to stay out of Prime Minister's Questions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

MPs usually pack into the Commons chamber for Boris Johnson's 12 noon questioning on a Wednesday – with enough seats only for two thirds of those in the room.

But today Tory and Labour whips told MPs to stay away unless they were listed on the Commons order paper or intended to ask a question.

And those still going in were advised to create as much space as possible between themselves and fellow MPs.

That would likely leave only a few dozen MPs in the chamber.

Jeremy Corbyn was still due to question Boris Johnson from the despatch box despite the government classing him as being in a vulnerable group.

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The Labour leader is 70, which means he should pay particular attention to advice on avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible.

All non-essential public access to Parliament has been halted in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle urged MPs and peers over the age of 70 and those with underlying health conditions to listen to Public Health England advice.

The Commons and Lords face an unprecedented challenge to ensure democracy continues while politicians self-isolate.

Two MPs have confirmed positive tests for the disease, and the Commons could be forced to close if a ban on mass gatherings is triggered.

Options being discussed by Westminster chiefs include "radically" reducing the number of MPs present in the chamber or allowing party whips to act as "proxies" for colleagues' votes.

But the Electoral Reform Society called for remote voting to be introduced.

Campaign director Willie Sullivan, said: "The need for scrutiny at a time of national crisis increases, not the opposite.

“It is vital that Parliament responds to the need for MPs to self-isolate in a modern, democratic way."

Commons Procedure Committee chairwoman Karen Bradley said: "Our priority is to ensure that the House's procedures can adapt to this rapidly changing situation.

"As a precautionary measure, the committee has been in discussion with the Clerk of the House and other senior House officials.

“We are examining the appropriate and responsible steps to take to ensure that the core work of the House continues in a responsible manner."

Government advisor Prof Neil Ferguson, who has fallen ill hours after attending a No10 press conference, warned this morning Westminster was a particular hotspot.

He told the BBC: "Central London is the hotspot in the UK at the moment so there are almost certainly thousands of cases in central London".

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