The British government is planning to shut down Parliament for four weeks from Wednesday night in the latest attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The UK outbreak is most advanced in London and several politicians have fallen ill, including a health minister. Parliament had been scheduled to break for Easter on March 31, but the House of Commons was expected to close on Wednesday if — as expected — lawmakers vote for the move, British officials said. The Commons would reopen on April 21.
The move to shut Parliament follows Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to put the UK on lockdown, ordering people to stay at home unless essential for work, closing schools, restaurants and shops, and banning gatherings in public.
But Johnson’s strategy has been called into question, with some critics saying it does not go far enough. Construction workers have been going to work on project sites as normal and packed London Underground trains prompted concerns that passengers will be spreading the disease.
Johnson has also faced calls for an urgent acceleration in the programme of testing people for coronavirus.
The government said it is acceptable for construction work to continue, if workers stand at least two meters apart to reduce the risk of contagion.
“If you can work from home you must do so. If you can’t work from home then you can go into work,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC’s Breakfast programme on Wednesday. “A number of employers have concluded that they can’t follow the Public Health England guidance and have chosen to shut down their sites.”
On Wednesday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said early data showed passenger numbers on the Underground had fallen significantly — down another third on March 24’s levels. He said Tube passenger numbers were already 88% down compared to the same day in 2019 and bus ridership 76% lower.
“However, we still need more Londoners to do the right thing and stay at home,” Khan added. Almost a third of London transport staff are sick or self-isolating, he added.