Coronavirus: Alok Sharma met PM and chancellor day before falling ill

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Media captionAlok Sharma wiped his face several times while speaking in Parliament

Business Secretary Alok Sharma met the prime minister and chancellor in No 10 the day before he became unwell in the Commons, Downing Street has said.

The PM’s official spokesman said the 45-minute meeting held in the cabinet room on Tuesday was socially distanced.

Mr Sharma is now self-isolating at home and is waiting for the result of a coronavirus test.

He had looked uncomfortable in the Commons on Wednesday, mopping his brow several times while speaking.

While it is unknown if Mr Sharma has the virus, it has added to the row over virtual proceedings in Parliament.

Earlier this week, MPs voted to return to physical sittings in Parliament – with additional motions due later to allow members who cannot attend due to age and health issues to participate via Zoom and to vote via proxy.

But critics have said the motions do not go far enough, calling it “irresponsible” to return during the outbreak and saying it puts MPs, their families and their constituents at risk.

Mr Sharma was pictured in Downing Street on Tuesday, when he attended a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak in No 10. He then took part in votes in the Commons later that day.

The PM’s official spokesman said those at the Downing Street meeting “were all 2m apart”.

“Meetings in Number 10 are all socially distanced,” he said.

If Mr Sharma has a positive coronavirus test “he will work with the test and trace service”, the spokesman said.

The Reading West MP was also in the Commons on Wednesday for the second reading of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill, when he began to feel unwell.

During the debate, Mr Sharma’s opposite number, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, passed him a glass of water at one point.

Mr Miliband subsequently sent his best wishes to Mr Sharma for a quick recovery.

The House of Commons authorities said “additional cleaning” had taken place, following the debate.

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HoC

Image caption

Cleaners in the Commons chamber

Although it is not yet known if Mr Sharma has contracted coronavirus, if his test comes back positive, the government advice is for his “close contacts” to self-isolate for 14 days.

Those who count as close contacts are either:

  • People you spend 15 minutes or more with at a distance of less than 2m
  • People you have direct contact with – such as sexual partners, household members or people with whom you have had face-to-face conversations at a distance of less than 1m

It’s important to highlight that we don’t know for sure whether the business secretary has coronavirus.

However, a potential case is causing real anger at Westminster.

Senior opposition figures say it shows the government was wrong to scrap a hybrid model which allowed MPs to contribute and vote remotely.

There are concerns some MPs didn’t maintain social distancing rules in lengthy voting queues. Others fear they could become super spreaders, taking the virus back to their constituencies if there is an outbreak.

If Mr Sharma did test positive, anyone he had spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of would have to self-isolate for two weeks.

‘Lead by example’

It comes amid a row among MPs over the return to physical sittings in Parliament.

Labour’s shadow leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, said stopping the so-called hybrid proceedings was “putting people’s lives at risk” – and she called for virtual measures to be in place until the R number had gone down and the government’s alert level had fallen.

But Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said Parliament should “lead by example”.

He said: “Across the country people are going back to work. How can we look teachers in our constituency in the eye when we are asking them to go back to work and we are saying we are not willing to?

“We have to be back here delivering on the legislative programme and being held to account.”

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael has been granted an emergency debate on how to conduct business in the Commons during the pandemic, which will take place on Monday.


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