Health minister tests positive for coronavirus – Parliament stays open

Health and Education Westminster

Health minister Nadine Dorries has become the first MP to test positive for the coronavirus prompting questions as to why the Commons has not closed in line with medical surgeries, businesses and schools that have all shut down premises in response to Covid-19.

The health minister’s diagnosis is “prompting concerns about the potential spread of the illness at Westminster and even at Downing Street” given Norris attended a reception at No 10 last week, reports the Guardian.

The Commons was packed today for Prime Minister’s Questions and the chancellor’s Budget Statement during which Rishi Sunak announced a £30 billion package of public funds to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The latest figures show the total number of diagnosed UK cases surged by 83 in 24 hours to reach 456, from 27,476 tests. The number of recorded deaths in the UK remains at six.

Dorries attended event hosted by PM

Dorries is self isolating and first noticed symptoms on March 5 – the same day she attended an event hosted by the PM.

Labour MP Rachael Maskell said she is following advice to self-isolate after having had contact with Dorries, while Downing Street sources, reported in the Telegraph, said Johnson “was not in close contact with his health minister and has not shown any symptoms.”

The paper states: “Experts believe people infected with the virus can carry it for up to five days before symptoms emerge”, and adds that Dorries held a constituency surgery on Saturday, “attended by 50 people”.

Hancock could be tested for coronavirus

Secretary of state for health Matt Hancock may have to be tested for coronavirus but a source from his department said: “We are lucky in the timing, because Matt last saw Nadine last Wednesday and her symptoms only came on at the back end of the week. Matt has no symptoms, and therefore is okay.”

Hancock had earlier this week said parliament should stay open because scrutiny is “incredibly important” during the outbreak; but listeners to BBC Radio 5’s Emma Barnett Show questioned why Westminster has not been closed following the health minister’s positive test for coronavirus.

Last night, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, confirmed there are no plans to shut down Westminster, and said: “Parliamentary authorities are already taking advice from the chief medical officer and will continue to do so.”

England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty has warned elderly MPs and peers “that they may be told to stay at home for their own protection”. The decision to keep parliament open is to be reviewed next week.

Cheltenham Festival goes on, Premier League postpones big match

The Chelthenham horse racing festival has gone ahead this week and expects around 250,000 visitors to the course before Friday’s final race.

The Mirror reports “around €300 million is expected to be gambled on the Cheltenham Festival this week”, with “thirsty racegoers” set to “guzzle down” 120,000 bottles of wine and 265,000 pints of Guinness (priced at £6 each) over the four day event. Some 10,000 “Irish punters” are expected among the quarter-of-a-million racegoers.

Piers Morgan lambasted the decision to continue with the festival on ITV’s Good Morning Britain show.

“Look at the volume of people there,” said Morgan. “How can anybody tell me, as this outbreak is beginning to erupt, that kind of gathering of people in that close proximity is a good idea. I don’t think that Cheltenham Festival should have been allowed to go ahead. It doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.”

Tonight’s (Wednesday) Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal has been postponed as a “precautionary measure”, with several players of the North London club in self-isolation following contact with the owner of Nottingham Forest, Evangelos Marinakis.

He tested positive for coronavirus, and as owner of Greek side Olympiakos, met several Arsenal players when the two clubs played each other two weeks ago.

Wolverhampton Wanderers’ request to have their match against Olympiakos postponed has been rejected by UEFA who said tomorrow’s (Thursday) match will be played behind closed doors.

Manchester United’s game against LASK will also be played on Thursday without spectators, following advice from the Austrian government.

Overwhelmed by a coronavirus tsunami

Many other games across Europe will be played without crowds, while in Italy all domestic sport has been suspended until at least April 3. Prime minster Giuseppe Conte announced the effective lock-down of the whole country on March 9 in response to Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak to date, with 631 reported deaths and Italian doctors reporting they are being “overwhelmed” by a coronavirus “tsunami”.

In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel today ordered the cancellation of all public events with crowds of more than 1,000 and warned that 70% of Germany could become infected by the disease.

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