More than 100 Covid cases linked to Parliament amid masks row


Caption: Exclusive: More than 100 Covid cases linked to Parliament while Boris went maskless Credit : AFP/EPA/Getty/REX
More than 100 Covid cases were linked to the parliamentary estate at a time when Boris Johnson was being urged to wear face a mask (Picture: AFP/EPA/Getty/REX)

More than 120 cases of Covid were linked to the Houses of Parliament around the time when MPs were being urged to wear masks.

Individuals who had tested positive named Westminster as somewhere they had visited in a two-month period, which covers the time when the prime minister was criticised for not wearing a face covering.

World Health Organisation Covid adviser Dr David Nabarro and Labour MPs had called on Boris Johnson and other Conservative ministers to take the precaution as national infection numbers rose.

Guidance from parliamentary authorities had cited a rise in Covid cases within the buildings, with House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle urging MPs and peers to ‘pull together’ and take the precaution.

Mr Johnson and other frontbenchers changed tack at the end of October last year, when he wore a face covering during the Budget.

Data released by the Commons now shows that, behind the scenes, 129 cases of Covid were linked to the parliamentary estate between the start of the month and December 7.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told Metro.co.uk: ‘These figures aren’t at all surprising, given the refusal of most Conservative MPs to respect basic public health guidance in Parliament until very recently.

‘The example was set, I’m afraid, by their leader, who has shown scant regard for the rules or for others during the whole of this pandemic.’

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a session on the budget at the Parliament, in London, Britain October 27, 2021. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.
Boris Johnson was critised for not wearing a mask in the House of Commons as Covid cases rose in October 2021 (Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

The individuals in the linked Covid cases had all informed NHS Test and Trace that they had visited the estate in the 14 days before receiving a positive test result.

The cases were recorded for contact tracing, according to information released by the Commons after a Freedom of Information Act request by Metro.co.uk.

The only other data disclosed by the Research and Information Team shows that there were 11 confirmed cases of Covid between March 1 and October 2, 2020.

In this photo illustration a unused lateral flow test (LFT) - is seen beside the NHS Test and Trace logo in Glastonbury on December 29, 2021 in Somerset, England. In the UK, as Covid infections have surged fuelled by the new Omicron variant, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said 100,000 critical workers will be given daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Test and Trace figures linked more than 100 cases to the Houses of Parliament in a two-month period (Picture: Getty Images Europe)

Although the Commons did not release year-on-year data for either Test and Trace or confirmed cases, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) stated in November that national increases in Covid ‘are also being reflected in Parliament’.

The UKHSA said the ‘risk of transmission on the Parliamentary Estate is now greater’ and ‘further action is being taken to ensure that case numbers do not continue to rise’.

As well as asking MPs and peers to wear face coverings, other precautions, which are still in place, included pausing non-parliamentary business activity such as tours and banqueting.

Screen grab of Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg making a statement to the House on coronavirus (COVID-19) relating to the finance bill which will be read and debated tomorrow.
Jacob Rees-Mogg said in October 2021 that he had tested negative for Covid and was not posing a risk by going without a mask (PIcture: PA)

The cases were identified by the UKHSA after a review. The Commons further stated that passholders are ‘requested’ to inform the Parliamentary Test and Trace team if they, or a member of their household, develop symptoms, receive a positive test or are a close contact. The information is held on behalf of, and provided to, NHS Test and Trace.

Dr Navarro said in November that ‘the virus is unforgiving and we need to do everything possible to prevent it’ as he responded to pictures of Mr Johnson walking through a hospital without a mask.

The previous month, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg defended his decision to go maskless, telling the Commons that he had tested negative and was ‘therefore not going to be spewing Covid around this chamber’.

Rates of infection were increasing at the time, with around one in 55 people having tested positive in England, according to official figures.

Temporary public health measures, including compulsory mask wearing in shops and on public transport, were set out by the prime minister in November as the first cases of Omicron emerged.

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Within Parliament, precautions have included stating that anyone visiting the estate should take a lateral flow test first and wear a face covering, with staff being asked to work remotely.

In its response, the Commons said: ‘The House closely follows Public Health England guidance on action to take as and where there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 on the parliamentary estate.

‘Where suspected cases are identified and the individual had been on site in the past 48 hours of developing symptoms, we have closed any areas where the individual has spent a significant amount of time and where possible carried out a specialist clean of the area before anyone is allowed to return.

‘In all cases, we have undertaken contact tracing in the event of suspected or confirmed cases and supported the work of NHS Test and Trace by providing details of close contacts where a case has been confirmed.’

A UK Parliament spokesperson said: ‘We continue to take the necessary steps to protect all of those in Parliament. All measures taken are in line with national guidance and advice from the UKHSA to ensure that the Parliamentary estate remains Covid-safe.’

Metro.co.uk has approached No10 for comment.

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact josh.layton@metro.co.uk

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