Tougher Covid-19 restrictions could be imposed in the UK Parliament if cases continue to rise during a “very crucial two weeks”, the Commons Speaker has warned.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle said cases have increased among MPs and staff, adding there is a “greater worry than we’ve had before” as transmission of the virus has been on the parliamentary estate.
Measures were stepped up in Parliament on Tuesday to limit the spread of coronavirus as many MPs continued to shun masks in the Commons chamber.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has determined the risk of transmission of Covid-19 on the parliamentary estate has increased.
New measures include the cancellation of non-parliamentary business activity such as tours, and banqueting activity at the Palace of Westminster.
Face coverings are already compulsory for staff, contractors and journalists while MPs have been now advised to wear them.
Chairs of meetings will be urged to take a stronger role in ensuring compliance with the rules.
New guidance has also urged social distancing, particularly in committees, where health officials believe the risk of transmission is greater.
Sir Lindsay urged MPs to follow tightened Covid-19 measures, telling the Commons: “If we can get through these two weeks, I believe we’re then through to next year.
“But it’s about this crucial two weeks, as numbers have been rising on both sides of the House and within staff, and unusually the transmission has been on the estate and that’s why it’s a greater worry than we’ve had before.”
He added: “I will always put the health and safety of this House first so please help me keep this House open by trying to get through a very crucial two weeks.
“After that I think we’ll be in a much safer place, I think we’ll be in the right place and the measures have not been stringent, they could have been even more stringent and some we might have to so please let us just pull and work together, because in the end I don’t want to have another Christmas like we’ve had previously.”
A parliamentary spokesman said: “There have been recent increases in Covid-19 across the country and these are also being reflected in Parliament.
“The UK Health Security Agency has determined that the risk of transmission on the parliamentary estate is now greater.
“As a consequence, some further action is being taken to ensure that case numbers do not continue to rise. The measures will be reviewed in two weeks’ time.”
Last week, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg defended not wearing a face mask by arguing regular testing shows he is not “spewing Covid” in the chamber.
He has previously claimed that Tory MPs’ “convivial, fraternal spirit” meant they did not need to mask up because the advice to wear a covering only applied in crowded spaces with people you do not normally mix with.
Most MPs on the Opposition benches wear masks, but many Conservatives still refuse to don a face covering in the chamber.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was forced to miss Prime Minister’s Questions and the Budget debate after testing positive for Covid-19 last week.
His self-isolation period continues and deputy leader Angela Rayner will stand in for him at Wednesday’s session with Boris Johnson.
Despite the concerns of the spread of the virus on the parliamentary estate, the City of Westminster as a whole has the second-lowest rate of coronavirus cases in the UK.
Downing Street indicated the Prime Minister would wear a mask in Parliament, as he did last week during the Budget.
Asked whether other ministers would be ordered to wear masks, a No 10 spokesman said: “We believe it’s a matter for individuals to make that decision.”
Conservative MP Karl McCartney raised a point of order in the Commons about the changes.
Sir Lindsay, in his response, told McCartney: “I’m very pleased in the way you’ve approached the question to me – a bit better than your email earlier today, which was pretty offensive so I think we ought to think about how we address each other in emails.”
The Speaker later cut off a point of order from Conservative MP William Wragg (Hazel Grove) on the issue, adding: “I’m not going to go into further debate” and “I’m certainly not going to be tested today”.