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Virus quarantine plans discussed as UK MPs return to parliament

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The bird’s eye view of the Commons from PMQs showed space on the green benches. PHOTO: UK PARLIAMENT/JESSICA TAYLORCommons

British MPs return to parliament on Tuesday as the virtual system introduced during the coronavirus lockdown ends, with controversial quarantine plans up for discussion.

MPs have attended the House of Commons either physically or by video call since late April but the government announced last month that business would now be conducted in person.

One of the first topics for debate will be government plans to force those entering Britain from abroad to quarantine for 14 days.

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But reports suggested ministers were looking to soften the approach following criticism from business leaders, particularly in the aviation sector.

Most people arriving by plane, ferry or train, including British nationals, must self-isolate from June 8 under plans that will be reviewed every three weeks.

The BBC said however that ministers were looking for more exemptions for those travelling from countries with low infection rates and for certain types of workers.

Lorry drivers, police officers, seasonal farm workers, and healthcare professionals are already exempt, as are those travelling from Ireland.

Police in England will be allowed to carry out random spot checks and issue £1,000 ($1,250, 1,125-euro) fines for those found breaking the rules.

A group of firms, including famous hotel The Ritz and travel agent Kuoni, were among those demanding so-called “air bridges” to low-risk countries.

Airlines including EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic said they had “serious reservations” about a “blanket approach”.

On parliamentary procedure, many MPs are unhappy about the termination of the virtual system, arguing that MPs classed as vulnerable due to age or health would miss out.

Others predicted farcical scenes and even kilometre-long queues to vote under social distancing rules.

Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is responsible for the new plan, said democracy would “once again flourish”, having been “curtailed under the hybrid halfway house”.

But the Electoral Reform Society said the plans presented a “real threat for democratic representation and political equality” if vulnerable MPs were unable to vote.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle accepted the new arrangements were “not perfect.. and members will need to be patient”.

“However, I still remain hopeful that colleagues will agree on a method of participation that enables all members to take part, especially those who are shielding, vulnerable or have caring responsibilities,” he added.

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