Coronavirus: Business Secretary Alok Sharma tests negative

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Media caption,

Alok Sharma wiped his face several times while speaking in Parliament

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has received a negative test result for coronavirus.

Mr Sharma said he would like to offer "huge thanks" to those who have expressed their well wishes over the last 24 hours as well as the Parliamentary authorities.

He became unwell in the Commons on Wednesday, where he was seen mopping his brow several times while speaking.

He was then tested for the virus and went home to self-isolate.

Earlier, the government had faced questions about whether the prime minister and chancellor would have to self-isolate, after Mr Sharma met them in Downing Street a day before falling ill.

Mr Sharma's condition also reignited concern over the scrapping of virtual Parliament this week, and the return of MPs to Westminster.

Announcing the result of his negative test, Mr Sharma sent his "grateful thanks" to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

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The Reading West MP was in the Commons on Wednesday for the second reading of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill, when he began to feel unwell.

During the debate, Mr Sharma's opposite number, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, passed him a glass of water at one point.

The House of Commons authorities said "additional cleaning" took place after the debate.

A day earlier, Mr Sharma had a 45-minute meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak in Downing Street.

Number 10 said the meeting had been "socially distanced".

'Wake-up call'

Earlier this week, MPs voted to return to physical sittings in Parliament, after Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg scrapped online voting procedures brought in at the height of the coronavirus lockdown.

Measures to allow MPs who cannot attend due to age and health issues to participate via Zoom and to vote via proxy were approved on Thursday.

But critics have said these measures do not go far enough, calling it "irresponsible" to return during the outbreak and saying it puts MPs, their families and their constituents at risk.

Reacting to the news of Mr Sharma's negative test, Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper said it was "good news" but it "should still be a wake-up call for Rees-Mogg".

She said the government should lead by example by supporting people to work from home where they can and "stop needlessly risking health of MPs and staff".

Labour MP Barry Sheerman said he was "very relieved" that Mr Sharma tested negative, but that "doesn't mean that the reintroduction of physical presence voting is not stupid".

The PCS union, representing about 800 of Parliament's clerks, security guards and kitchen staff, has written to the prime minister to say the decision to end virtual voting was endangering the workers.

"We believe Parliament has opened too soon and the lives of PCS members, and those of our sister unions, are being put at risk unnecessarily," general secretary Mark Serwotka said.

Earlier, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said Parliament should "lead by example" and return to Westminster.

He said: "Across the country people are going back to work. How can we look teachers in our constituency in the eye when we are asking them to go back to work and we are saying we are not willing to?

"We have to be back here delivering on the legislative programme and being held to account."

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael has been granted an emergency debate on how to conduct business in the Commons during the pandemic, which will take place on Monday.

The MP for Orkney and Shetland argued that the government's insistence that MPs must be present in Parliament constituted a serious risk to health.