With more than 30 MPs, including Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari and Prahlad Patel, testing positive over the last week, there is a palpable sense of concern and apprehension in Parliament over the spread of Covid. The situation has prompted stricter protocol and raised the possibility of the ongoing Monsoon Session being wound up next week.
The case of BJP’s Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, who had tested negative last Friday, has further rattled parliamentarians. A day after he was the party’s lead speaker for the Covid debate in the Upper House, Sahasrabuddhe said Thursday that he has tested positive after developing a headache and mild fever the previous night.
While wishing him a speedy recovery, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien asked all Members who had come in contact with Sahasrabuddhe or were seated near him to isolate themselves. He also noted that Sahasrabuddhe had delivered a speech from the Treasury benches and would have spent time in the House lobby and Central Hall.
According to sources, if the Bills for which 11 ordinances were promulgated during the lockdown are passed by both Houses, the session may be cut short. Sources said the government is expected to push these Bills in the first half of next week. At least two Opposition MPs said the session could be concluded by the middle of next week.
Both the Houses will conduct sessions over this weekend, including an unprecedented Sunday session — Lok Sabha had sat on Saturday for the Union Budget on February 1.
While the government has already passed supplementary demands for grants, the Lok Sabha is yet to take up the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) 2020. At the moment, the session, which began on September 14, is officially scheduled to conclude on October 1.
The new Covid protocols, which will cover MPs, mediapersons and Parliamentary staff, include mandatory daily antigen tests and wearing of masks, and entry restrictions for former MPs, MLCs, MLAs and family members or personal guests.
Besides, officials accompanying Ministers during discussions on Bills have to show a negative report from RT-PCR tests taken within 72 hours before their visit to the complex. Fresh directions are being issued on a daily basis through the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha bulletins, too.
Currently, members of both Houses have been undergoing RT-PCR tests at regular intervals on a voluntary basis, said a senior Parliament official — there is no limit on these tests. Mediapersons in press galleries also have the option to undergo the RT-PCR test, which is valid for 72 hours.
Inside the Houses, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla have repeatedly instructed members to follow physical distancing and other Covid protocols strictly.
On Friday, Naidu asked members to refrain from whispering in each other’s ears. Birla reminded MPs to wear masks properly and maintain distance to avoid “putting others’ lives in danger”.
“No member is expected to come to the Table office when the House is in session. Members are requested not to go to other members’ seats and bend and whisper in their ears. Please avoid. If you have something to communicate, send slips. It is not allowed in examination halls but is allowed here,” Naidu said.