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Virus strains public sector, UK parliament to time out

The British parliament will shut down a week early for its Easter recess as coronavirus continues to make its way through Britain’s political class and public sector, it announced on Wednesday. At least 20 MPs have tested positive for coronavirus or are suspected of having it. Parliament will close on Wednesday, set to reconvene on April 21, but first MPs are to vote on emergency coronavirus legislation. “We live in a democracy so it is absolutely essential the government is held to account, particularly in times like this. Parliament will return,” Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said. “There has been another order in parliament to create ways for select committees to operate remotely.” The move comes as Britain’s public sector continues to feel the strain of the outbreak.

Police

Britain’s police force has warned of the difficulty of enforcing social distancing in the country. They have already run into issues of people flagrantly violating government rules by gathering for barbecues or gathering in parks in large numbers. Police officers themselves are of course susceptible to the virus and would have to self-isolate, which is an issue as the force lacks a “surge capacity” to ramp up front-line policing at short notice. The police have emphasized they want to take an approach that focuses on social pressure and persuasion, rather than force. That said, the National Police Chiefs’ Council warned the country’s situation could lead to opportunistic crime.

“Crises like this bring out some of the best but sadly also the worst in humanity and there will be individuals who seek to exploit the pandemic,” a spokesperson for the council said. “That’s why it’s essential the police have the resources and the powers to crack down on shameless, opportunistic crimes like this.”

The crimes include selling fake medical supplies, price gouging, setting up fake delivery services, stealing from food banks – and even damaging ambulance vehicles.

Education

British universities have shifted to online teaching and closed their classes due to the outbreak. A key debate currently going on is the issue of exams for final-year students. Some universities are replacing in-person, written exams with online ones – but this has raised the issue of disadvantaging poorer and disabled students who may not have access to suitable laptops or internet to work in and take the exams.

Postal service

Postal workers concerned that their job puts their health at risk by being out and about have called on businesses to reduce non-essential mail, such as leaflets advertising restaurants or magazine subscriptions.

Health service

Staff in the National Health Service have criticized the government for not providing enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) at a quick enough pace. Some have threatened to quit over the issue, according to The Guardian daily. Dr. Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, said: “The longer this epidemic goes on for, if doctors feel that there is a widespread lack of personal protective equipment [PPE], then some doctors may feel they have no choice but to give up the profession they love, because they feel so abandoned by not being given the PPE that the World Health Organization recommends… 

“But the government hasn’t kept its side of the bargain with NHS staff by not having enough PPE available to safeguard the health of doctors and nurses.”

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing said: “Our priority is to make sure nursing staff in frontline care have the masks and equipment they need, but the government and NHS must be able to offer reasonable protection and assurances to those who lend a hand in these times.

“Nursing staff should never be forced to choose between their safety and their livelihood – this equipment must desperately reach the frontline.” On Tuesday, the Department of Health said: “Across the U.K., there have been 90,436 concluded tests, of which 82,359 were confirmed negative, and 8,077 positive. 422 patients who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have sadly died.”

After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, coronavirus has spread to at least 170 countries and territories. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. The number of confirmed cases worldwide has now surpassed 436,000, while the death toll is nearly 19,000 and nearly 112,000 have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. Despite the rising number of cases, most who contract the virus suffer only mild symptoms before making a recovery.

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