Coronavirus Forces British MPs to Use Zoom for Virtual Parliament

Britain’s Parliament went back to work Tuesday, and the political authorities had a message for lawmakers: Stay away.

UK legislators and most parliamentary staff were sent home in late March as part of a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

With more than 17,000 virus-deaths in Britain and criticism growing of the government’s response to the pandemic, legislators are returning – at least virtually – to grapple with the crisis.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle presided over an almost-empty chamber, with space made for a maximum of 50 of the 650 members of Parliament.

Red “no sitting” signs affixed to the green Commons benches and black-and-yellow hazard tape on the floor ensured lawmakers remained two meters (6.5 feet) apart.

A few dozen legislators sat, well-spaced, in the Commons, and agreed on arrangements for lawmakers to ask questions from home using videoconferencing program Zoom, beamed onto screens erected around the wood-paneled hamber.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative lawmaker who serves as leader of the House of Commons, accepted it was “imperfect” to old sessions in this way “but said “we are doing our best in very difficult circumstances to maintain as much as we can.”

The virtual Parliament will have its first big test Wednesday during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will stand in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is still recovering from a bout of COVID-19.

Dozens of British lawmakers, advisers, civil servants and journalists have had coronavirus symptoms, likely contracted in the cramped precincts of Parliament and other government buildings.

Johnson spent a week in the hospital, including three nights in intensive care, after contracting the virus.

The 55-year-old leader is recuperating in the countryside, and there is no word on when he will return.

Opposition politicians have been largely supportive of the national lockdown that was imposed on March 23 and runs until at least May 7.

But political unity has frayed as Britain’s coronavirus death toll mounts.

As of Tuesday, more than 17,000 people with the coronavirus had died in British hospitals, and separate statistics revealed more than 1,500 additional virus deaths took place outside hospitals up to April 10.

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