Virus strains public sector, UK parliament to time out

LONDON (Agencies): The British parliament will shut down a week early for its Easter recess as coronavirus continues to make its way through Britain’s political class and public sector, it announced on Wednesday.

At least 20 MPs have tested positive for coronavirus or are suspected of having it.

Parliament will close on Wednesday, set to reconvene on April 21, but first MPs are to vote on emergency coronavirus legislation. “We live in a democracy so it is absolutely essential the government is held to account, particularly in times like this. Parliament will return,” Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said. “There has been another order in parliament to create ways for select committees to operate remotely.”

The move comes as Britain’s public sector continues to feel the strain of the outbreak.

Britain’s police force has warned of the difficulty of enforcing social distancing in the country.

They have already run into issues of people flagrantly violating government rules by gathering for barbecues or gathering in parks in large numbers.

Police officers themselves are of course susceptible to the virus and would have to self-isolate, which is an issue as the force lacks a “surge capacity” to ramp up front-line policing at short notice. The police have emphasized they want to take an approach that focuses on social pressure and persuasion, rather than force.

That said, the National Police Chiefs’ Council warned the country’s situation could lead to opportunistic crime.

“Crises like this bring out some of the best but sadly also the worst in humanity and there will be individuals who seek to exploit the pandemic,” a spokesperson for the council said. “That’s why it’s essential the police have the resources and the powers to crack down on shameless, opportunistic crimes like this.”

The crimes include selling fake medical supplies, price gouging, setting up fake delivery services, stealing from food banks – and even damaging ambulance vehicles. British universities have shifted to online teaching and closed their classes due to the outbreak. A key debate currently going on is the issue of exams for final-year students.

Some universities are replacing in-person, written exams with online ones – but this has raised the issue of disadvantaging poorer and disabled students who may not have access to suitable laptops or internet to work in and take the exams.

Staff in the National Health Service have criticized the government for not providing enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) at a quick enough pace.