Parliament tweaks testing after 2 more MPs test Covid +ve
The changes came after Union tourism and culture minister Prahlad Patel and BJP’s senior Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, a day after transport minister Nitin Gadkari did.Updated: Sep 18, 2020, 10:29 IST
Repeat RT-PCR tests for lawmakers, mandatory tests for government officials visiting parliament, and daily antigen tests for reporters and Parliament officials — these are part of the tighter safety norms that have been hurriedly put in place after more Members of Parliament (MPs), who attended the ongoing monsoon session, tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
The changes came after Union tourism and culture minister Prahlad Patel and BJP’s senior Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, a day after transport minister Nitin Gadkari did. All three had tested negative in the gold standard RT-PCR tests over the weekend, and experts said their positive tests points to the need for frequent repeat testing — and for the lawmakers attending Parliament’s ongoing session to wear masks and maintain social distancing even while out of the House.
Parliament officials said lawmakers would be encouraged to undergo a fresh round of RT-PCR tests and that more intensive sanitisation of the chambers and Parliament building is happening. All three leaders attended Parliament before testing positive. They also didn’t rule out a shorter-than-planned monsoon session if more lawmakers attending it test positive.
“No formal direction has been issued to MPs yet (on the tests) as we see that many of them are already taking a repeat RT-PCR test on their own. The speaker’s office has already clarified that a lawmaker is free to take as many tests as he want,” said a senior official involved in keeping Parliament safe.
An internal Lok Sabha circular, reviewed by HT, said that ministry officials who want to come to the Official Gallery will have to show a negative RT-PCR test report taken ”not more than 72 hours before their visit to Parliament House”.
The gallery is right next to the first row of the treasury benches and various ministry officials sit there to assist their ministers as and when there is a debate related to their department.
Both Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla hurriedly consulted various experts and lawmakers before tightening the current Covid safety protocols. The three new cases involving MPs have left both presiding officers worried and resulted in a new, tighter set of rules.
Parliament has also made it mandatory for its officials dealing with MPs and the public to undertake daily rapid antigen tests. The results of these are usually available in 15-20 minutes as against a minimum of 5-6 hours for the RT-PCR test. They are not as accurate, though.
The circular added: “Officials issued with general entry session passes must carry/show their rapid antigen (negative) report for the same day of their visit to Parliament House.”
Journalists entering Parliament will also have to undergo daily antigen tests.
Patel said on Twitter on Thursday morning: “My Covid report came positive last night. Those who met me on Tuesday should maintain caution.”
Similarly, Sahasrabuddhe, president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, took to the Twitter to announce, “Last Friday, got examined and was tested Negative, hence attended Parliament! But last night I had headache+mild fever, got examined and have tested Positive for Covid-19! .”
Top officials refused to rule out a curtailment of the monsoon session if cases continue to grow in the two Houses. A top functionary told HT on Thursday: “That is always an option. But we also have to think how to balance the fact that on one side we are keeping all services such as metro rails, shops, buses open, but we ourselves are shutting down the session.”
The monsoon session, delayed by two months due to the pandemic, started on September 14 after all lawmakers, officials and journalists covering the session were tested for Covid-19. It also saw unprecedented arrangements including MPs of one House spread across both Houses of Parliament to maintain social distancing, plexiglass sheets separating seats, a sit-and-speak order, and the two Houses working in shifts.
With the three MPs, thus far, 32 lawmakers have tested positive since late last week.