Now a British Health Minister Has Coronavirus and MPs Want Parliament Shut Down

A junior health minister and one of her staffers have the coronavirus, but government sources say Prime Minister Boris Johnson won't be tested.
March 11, 2020, 1:44pm
uk health minister coronavirus

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Britain’s junior health minister Nadine Dorries has tested positive for the coronavirus, sparking calls to shut down Parliament to prevent a wider outbreak.

Dorries first showed symptoms on Thursday, the same day she attended a reception with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, according to the Department of Health. She said she'd been self-isolating since her diagnosis was confirmed Monday night.

“It’s been pretty rubbish, but I hope I’m over the worst of it now,” she tweeted Tuesday night, after disclosing her positive test. “More worried about my 84-[year-old] mum, who is staying with me and began with the cough today.”

Her diagnosis, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among British MPs, has triggered urgent tracing of her contacts with constituents and fellow politicians in recent days. British media reported she had sent a message to a WhatsApp group of Conservative MPs calling on them to come forward if they had been near her, because it was “hard to remember every single person I was in contact with.”

The message also said that one of her parliamentary staff had “gone down with it too.” Meanwhile, another UK politician, Labour MP Rachael Maskell, said Wednesday she was self-isolating for 14 days on the advice of health officials after having met with Dorries last Thursday.

Johnson attended an event with Dorries last week, but government sources said he wouldn’t be tested for the virus, as he had no symptoms and had not come within six feet of the infected MP.

Dorries’ office in the House of Commons has been cordoned off with police tape, with a sign on the door reading: “COVID-19 DO NOT ENTER.”

READ: Coronavirus has northern Italy’s hospitals on the brink of collapse

The positive diagnosis has led to calls from politicians to shut down Parliament, where the finance minister is due to deliver a budget statement Wednesday, to avoid a wider outbreak.

Rory Stewart, a former Conservative minister who is currently campaigning to be London mayor, tweeted Wednesday that Parliament “should cease to meet in person.”

“The budget should be announced online,” wrote Stewart, who has called for a stronger response from authorities to the outbreak. “[MPs] are in danger of infecting each other in the chamber and then going on to infect others.”

But a parliamentary spokeswoman said there were no plans to suspend Parliament “at present.”

READ: Doctors are still dying in Wuhan and Beijing keeps trying to silence them

The Department of Health has said that ministers only need to self-isolate if they display symptoms of the virus. So far, the U.K. has 382 cases of COVID-19, and six people have died.

Dorries is just the latest politician to fall ill to the coronavirus, as outbreaks have continued to spread outside China in recent weeks. In France, Culture Minister Franck Riester and five MPs have tested positive, while in Italy, Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti has been in quarantine since a positive test last week. In the U.S., five Republican lawmakers had to self-quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month.

READ: Italian inmates are looting methadone and setting prisons on fire in violent coronavirus protests

In Iran, home to one of the largest outbreaks globally, politicians have been hit particularly hard. Two politicians and a top adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei have died from the coronavirus, and more than 20 other politicians have tested positive.

Cover: File photo dated 13/07/19 of Boris Johnson with Nadine Dorries during a Tory leadership hustings at the Woodlands Event Centre in Wyboston, Bedfordshire. Joe Giddens/PA Wire URN:51273189 (Press Association via AP Images)