ALOK SHARMA has been tested for Covid-19 after feeling unwell in Parliament on Wednesday (3), just a day after the government required hundreds of legislators to resume voting in person.
The business secretary “began feeling unwell when in the Chamber delivering the second reading of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill”.
“In line with guidance he has been tested for coronavirus and is returning home to self isolate,” the 52-year-old minister’s spokesperson said.
During April and May, legislators could vote remotely, but on Tuesday the government ended the arrangement, angering parliamentarians across all parties.
Hundreds of lawmakers spent over an hour in enormous queues through the imposing corridors and halls of the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday, casting their first ever socially-distanced votes.
Alarm bells went off as Prime Minister Boris Johnson had held a 45-minute socially distanced meeting with Sharma on Tuesday.
Johnson’s spokesman said the meeting in Number 10 Downing Street offices was also attended by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
“The meeting which took place in Number 10 — I believe it was in the Cabinet Room — was properly socially distanced, so they were all two metres apart,” he said.
“If the secretary of state (Sharma) were to test positive for coronavirus then he will go through the test and trace process and follow the advice which they give to him.”
Johnson has already contracted and recovered from Covid-19, but there’s no certainty that would give him immunity.
Television footage showed Sharma wiping his brow, and opposition lawmaker Sarah Olney, who took part in the debate, said it had been clear from the start that Sharma looked unwell.
“I wish him a speedy recovery but (am) frankly amazed that he decided to take the risk,” she said on Twitter.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband was seen passing the minister a glass of water.
If Sharma tests positive for the coronavirus, anyone in his proximity within two metres for more than 15 minutes would have to self isolate for two weeks as per the current UK government guidelines.
Sharma’s illness will renew concerns expressed by several MPs over the return of physical voting after digital voting was discontinued.
“The government stopped MPs from working from home and asked us to return to a building where social distancing is impossible,” said shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy.
“MPs are travelling home to every part of the country tonight. Reckless doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
Shadow business minister Toby Perkins said it was “ridiculous” for Sharma to show up to work sick.
“It was the height of irresponsibility for him to be in parliament sniffling, sweating and snorting from the despatch box,” he added.
Many of the MPs had posted images on social media of the long snaking queue across the Parliament complex on Tuesday as they lined up to cast their vote while trying to maintain the requisite two-metre distance to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus.
A House of Commons spokesperson said: “We have closely followed guidance from PHE [Public Health England] on action to take following a suspected case of Covid-19 on site, including additional cleaning. Our risk assessment outlines the measures we have already put in place to reduce the risk of transmission in Parliament.”