MPs have received several updates about coronavirus this week. The chief medical officer is appearing before the health and social care select committee, the secretary of state made a statement to parliament, and following the announcement of new cases in Trafford, local NHS managers have also been sending me briefings. The best place for the public to obtain advice is on the NHS website at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/common-questions/. Most people already know the advice is to wash your hands regularly, cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and contact NHS111 if you think you may have been in contact with the virus – but do not visit your GP’s surgery.
There are wider issues for MPs to consider too. First, we need to know the NHS has the resources that it needs and will receive any necessary emergency funding. MPs have also been asking for assurances that everyone will receive sick pay if they self-isolate, and that benefits recipients won’t be subject to penalties if it means they can’t look for work. The virus has now been designated as a notifiable disease, so businesses will be able to claim insurance if they suffer losses, but what are the plans to protect essential supplies and the economy? How will the government ensure the needs of elderly and disabled people who are looked after by carers will be met? At the moment, the medical advice is that sports, arts and public events, schools and colleges, flights, and even parliament do not need to be closed or cancelled, but we want to know that contingency plans will be in place if needed.
I’m sure there will be regular updates to MPs, and I’m pleased that, despite media rumours, there is no intention to close down parliament unless the medical advice is to do so. We need to be in Westminster to raise the concerns and questions that our constituents are asking, and to scrutinise the government’s actions.
It was great to have Stretford residents Jill and Florrie shadow me in parliament on Wednesday. The day was a bit of a whirlwind, including a tour of parliament; sitting in on prime minister’s questions; attending three different receptions – Kellogg’s schools breakfast clubs awards, an event hosted by British Lung Foundation calling for the government to incorporate World Health Organisation air quality limits into UK law, and a reception organised by This Girl Can, which aims to get more women to become physically active; and watching while I participated in a debate calling for refugees to have more time before they’re forced to move out of asylum accommodation once their refugee status is confirmed . In between times, I tried to explain how I decide how to spend my day, with so much going on at once in parliament. I just hope it didn’t seem too chaotic!
I was also really pleased to show my support for two great causes in parliament this week. Charity Marie Curie’s daffodil appeal runs right through March, when they raise funds for, and awareness of, end of life care. And I was delighted to accept some children’s books to mark World Book Day, which I’ll be donating to local schools or libraries.
The week ended with a debate to mark International Women’s Day this weekend. I was very moved by some of the speeches of my colleagues, talking about everything from the women who’ve inspired them, to women imprisoned abroad for seeking equality with men, to the menopause and infertility treatment. You can watch the debate here or read it here. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!