March 25, 2020 / 7:37 AM / 2 months ago

UK parliament closes for at least four weeks

FILE PHOTO: The Houses of Parliament can be seen as people wearing protective face masks walk across Westminster Bridge, as the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases around the world continues to grow, in London, Britain, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s parliament suspended sitting for at least four weeks from Wednesday as part of government efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Parliament was due to close anyway for a three-week Easter break from March 31, but the government asked lawmakers to start a week early, as fears grow that politicians and staff are being put at risk by continuing to work there.

It had already closed to visitors and reduced the number of lawmakers allowed in the House of Commons chamber to allow them to sit further apart in accordance with guidance on social distancing.

A sparsely populated debating chamber agreed without any dissent to a motion stating: “That this House, at its rising today, do adjourn until Tuesday 21 April 2020.”

Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle also said on Monday that any votes which took place would be adapted to avoid the usual process which can see hundreds of lawmakers crammed into a narrow room together as they are counted through.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick said that while most lawmakers wanted parliament to continue sitting to scrutinise the government, it was also important to protect the staff who work there.

“I am certain that parliament will return after the Easter holidays and I think it is really important, however deep and serious this crisis is, that parliament in some form continues to operate,” he told BBC TV.

The upper chamber, the House of Lords, earlier approved emergency legislation giving authorities sweeping powers to tackle the growing coronavirus outbreak.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and William James; editing by Michael Holden and Stephen Addison

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