Coronavirus: Parliament to shut down tonight over COVID-19 spread fears

25 March 2020, 09:58 | Updated: 25 March 2020, 10:51

Parliament is shutting down a week early because of fears over the spread of coronavirus.

MPs will be sent back to their constituencies for Easter recess tonight, as soon as new laws handing emergency lockdown powers to the government are passed.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg thanked them for "coming together" to unanimously back the Coronavirus Bill, which now only needs sign off by the House of Lords.

But some MPs have told Sky News they should be staying in parliament to scrutinise crucial details of Downing Street's plan to battle COVID-19, which has so far killed 424 people in the UK.

The Commons was due to go into recess anyway on Tuesday 31 March 2020 for three weeks - until 21 April 2020.

Now the government has brought forward the departure because it says it wants to protect staff.

MPs have been told off recently for sitting too close together in the main chamber, which can only seat around 400 of the 650 of them anyway.

The government's social distancing advice states that everyone should stay two metre away from each other to limit contact.

Staff members from across the political parties welcomed the news, with one telling Sky News "it's about bloody time" and another complaining "it should have happened weeks ago".

But several Labour MPs expressed fears they will even less time to press the government on vital questions raised by constituents about the coronavirus pandemic.

Wes Streeting said he was "really worried" as the promise of measures to help self-employed people during the lockdown has yet to materialise.

He also raised concerns about needing urgent answers on protective kit and testing for NHS staff, as well as the amount of non-essential work still taking place.

"Our ability to hold the government to account and push them in the right direction is seriously diminished when parliament is in recess. This doesn't feel right," he told Sky News.

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Rosie Duffield said Labour backbenchers were having to frantically message each other questions to ask ministers on behalf of the country.

"Obviously we understand that it's important we lead by example and work from home - but it's still a little bit unnerving that parliament won't be sitting in a time of such crisis," she told Sky News.

While MP Chris Evans tweeted: "Very concerned that parliament is going into recess without a proper package in place for the self employed.

"My inbox is inundated with the very real concerns that they have, so far, been neglected by government. It's such a stressful time, they need help and support now."