Alok Sharma receives negative test for Covid-19
Alok Sharma has received a negative test result for coronavirus after appearing visibly ill in the House of Commons chamber, a spokeswoman for the Business Secretary has said.
The spokeswoman said on Thursday evening that the Cabinet member will be able to stop his period of self-isolation as he is no longer showing symptoms.
The development will be a relief for Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, because there was a prospect they would have had to isolate if the test came back positive, having spent 45 minutes in a Downing Street meeting with Mr Sharma on Tuesday.
“Business Secretary Alok Sharma has received a negative result after being tested for coronavirus yesterday,” the spokeswoman said.
“Mr Sharma would like to thank the Parliamentary authorities and Speaker and also for the kind words from Parliamentary colleagues and others who have expressed their well-wishes over the last 24 hours.”
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the PM and Mr Sunak held a socially distanced meeting on the economy with Mr Sharma earlier this week.
The spokesman said Mr Johnson would follow medical advice if spoken to by contact tracers who would begin their work if Mr Sharma’s test for Covid-19 comes back positive.
Downing Street said the Government was not reconsidering its move to end virtual voting in the Commons, despite the Business Secretary appearing visibly ill in the chamber on Wednesday.
The spokesman said: “Should the Secretary of State receive a positive test, then he will work with the test and trace service to share information about his recent interactions.
“He did attend a meeting in No 10, which took place before Cabinet. That was a discussion on the economy and in terms of who was present, it was the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Business Secretary.”
He stressed the meeting took place with two-metre distancing in place and pointed towards the Government guidelines on how the tracers operate, which include asking individuals whether they had been to a workplace recently.
The spokesman confirmed that even those who have had Covid-19 must isolate and, when pressed on whether the PM would self-isolate if told to, he said: “I would expect us to take medical advice and to follow it.”
As a way of slowing the virus’s spread, contact tracers with the NHS service are asking infected individuals who they have come into recent contact with.
Tracers will then decide whether it is necessary to tell those contacts to self-isolate for 14 days from their last contact with the individual, as a precaution.
Mr Sharma was tested for Covid-19 and entered self-isolation after he was seen mopping his brow while struggling at the despatch box during the second reading of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill.
His Cabinet colleague Grant Shapps said Mr Sharma was “doing fine” working from home while awaiting the result, having spoken to him on Thursday afternoon, and insisted that he had “always been two metres apart” from the PM.
The PCS union, representing about 800 of Parliament’s clerks, security guards and kitchen staff, wrote to the PM highlighting the case in saying the decision to end virtual voting was endangering the workers.
“We believe Parliament has opened too soon and the lives of PCS members, and those of our sister unions, are being put at risk unnecessarily,” general secretary Mark Serwotka wrote.
The feared case of Covid-19 in the chamber came a day after MPs approved the Government’s plan to end virtual voting in the Commons, prompting renewed calls for the system to return.
MPs on Thursday challenged Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg for ending virtual voting, with Labour criticising the “shambolic” long queues MPs have to form to vote which have been dubbed the “coronavirus conga”.
Senior Conservatives, opposition groups and the equalities watchdog raised concerns the decision to end digital voting would prevent many representatives, particularly the elderly and vulnerable ones who are shielding, from being able to vote.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis denied that Mr Sharma’s case supported the argument for virtual voting in the Commons to be resumed.
He told the BBC: “It is important for parliamentarians to be able to properly scrutinise legislation, not just for Covid but for the wider legislative agenda we have to continue with for people across the country, but to do so within proper guidelines.”