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MPs told to stay away from PMQs over coronavirus but Parliament remains open despite dozens of affected MPs

Parliament remains open despite several MPs being forced to self-isolate. Credit: PA

The number of MPs affected by coronavirus is growing almost daily, but Parliament is still defying calls to close, despite one of the prime minister's top medical advisers saying there's 'a lot' of Covid-19 in Wesminster.

For Prime Minister's Questions, only MPs who have been selected to speak will be admitted to the chamber, reducing the number of people inside from hundreds to dozens.

A message from the Tory deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew, sent to MPs, said: "In order to ensure that we follow the advice being given to the public, it has been decided that only people on the Order Paper should be in the chamber."

Labour gave its MPs the same instructions and also asked those in the chamber to "space yourselves out"

At PMQs Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle said: "I have discussed with the usual channels ways in which we can limit the numbers of people crowded together to ensure maximum safety.

"We are all doing our best to keep Parliament sitting and to follow Public Health England and guidance."

The move comes after MPs expressed unease about Parliament continuing to function as normal during the coronavirus crisis despite the official advice on social distancing.

Calls to close down the Houses of Parliament entirely are growing, with at least 26 MPs being forced to self-isolate at some point over the virus and at least two have been diagnosed as infected.

Mother of the House Harriet Harman criticised the "packed back benches" and a "bustling tea room" at a time when members of the public were being urged to work from home and avoid pubs and restaurants.

The veteran Labour MP said the situation was setting a bad example to the country.

Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiology expert who met Boris Johnson on Monday and on Wednesday morning revealed he was experiencing coronavirus symptoms, tweeted how "there is a lot of COVID-19 in Westminster".

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He wrote: "Sigh. Developed a slight dry but persistent cough yesterday and self isolated even though I felt fine. Then developed high fever at 4am today. There is a lot of COVID-19 in Westminster."

Despite the link between the virus and Parliament growing more apparent, the government appears determined to keep going.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, said "it is very important that Parliament continues to operate, the Government of course will continue to operate".

He told BBC Radio 4: "The way that we interact in Parliament of course may change.

"Parliament has been closed to outside visitors and we need to make sure that we follow the advice that we are giving to others."

Labour MP Lucy Powell said: "We should be practising what we are preaching.

"MPs sitting cheek by jowl all day, heading back off around the country, isn't good."

Commons Clerk Dr John Benger has set out a serious of options that may be considered by the parliamentary authorities.

Among them were a portion of MPs representing the current balance of the House being agreed by parties if it was desired to "reduce radically" the number of members in the chamber.

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The need for change was underlined by leading infectious diseases expert and Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, who said central London - especially Westminster - was a Covid-19 hotspot.

"There is a lot of Covid-19 in Westminster," he said after announcing that he had developed symptoms and entered self-isolation.

Ms Powell said: "With central London such a 'hot bed' for spreading the virus, we really need to quickly change how we are working in Parliament and Whitehall."

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: "Parliament must sit throughout this crisis, especially during this crisis, but we can change the way we work with practical steps - like a rota for speakers during questions and debates to help limit numbers in the chamber."

On Wednesday morning former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron said he was self-isolating for 14 days due to a family member showing symptoms of coronavirus.

He was just the latest in an ever-growing line of MPs forced to self-isolate over the virus.

Others include Nadine Dorries and Kate Osborne, who have both been diagnosed with the illness.

Other MPs self-isolating include Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, Home Office minister James Brokenshire, Parliament's youngest MP Nadia Whittome, and prominent Brexiter Andrew Bridgen.