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Coronavirus Live Updates: British Parliament Looks to Meet in Cyberspace | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Coronavirus Live Updates: British Parliament Looks to Meet in Cyberspace


British Parliament is moving its business online, for now.

A scramble is underway to convert an ancient institution, the British Parliament, into a virtual one. After an absence of several weeks, lawmakers are anxious to return to the job, in cyberspace if nothing else.

“We need a functioning Parliament to hold ministers to account on their response to the coronavirus,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party. “There are too many questions that have gone unanswered.”

A decision on how and when to meet could come as early as Thursday. But going online is not easy for an institution so steeped in tradition that casting a vote requires lawmakers to pass through a narrow lobby where their names are recorded by officials in formal dress.

And, paradoxically, the job of facilitating one of the biggest revolutions in the workings of Parliament falls largely to the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man whose mannerisms are so self-consciously old-fashioned that he has been nicknamed “the honorable member for the 18th century.”

Some lawmakers are queasy about the very idea of a virtual Parliament. “The House of Commons met when air raids were going on in the war,” David Davis, a former cabinet minister, told The Observer. “I think it needs to be reconstituted even if it means members of Parliament being tested every day.”

Some select committees have used technology to hold hearings virtually, but widening this out to the full 650-member House of Commons raises trickier issues. One possibility is to have the speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, sit in isolation in the chamber, moderating proceedings via a video link.

Alternatively, Mr. Hoyle might be joined by a government minister and a political opponent, with lawmakers using a messaging system to ask questions.

Like a ghost from the medieval past, the bubonic plague still makes occasional, unwelcome appearances in remote regions of the former Soviet Union, where it survives today in wild rodents.

Over the centuries, with improved public hygiene, the plague declined as a threat. Today, as a bacterial infection, it is treatable with antibiotics, if caught in time.

But the plague was still a lethal menace in the 1920s and also an embarrassment for the Soviet Union, which established a specialized state agency to track and contain it.

Successors to that agency still exist in Russia and in half a dozen other countries that were once Soviet republics and, with their ready quarantine plans and trained personnel, they have become a mainstay of the regional response to the coronavirus.

It is too early to tell if the former Soviet antiplague centers, as the sites were called, have made any difference in the coronavirus outbreak, which so far has infected more than 24,000 Russians, killing 198.

At most, the legacy Soviet system helped delay the spread, and it is just one data point in assessing why the coronavirus moved more slowly in Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries than in Western Europe and the United States.

Russia maintains 13 antiplague centers, from the Far East to the Caucasus Mountains, five plague research institutes and multiple field stations. In March, the authorities moved new laboratory equipment into the antiplague center in Moscow to expand its ability to test for the coronavirus.

The Microbe institute, originally dedicated wholly to bubonic plague but later expanded to tackle other infections such as cholera, yellow fever, anthrax and tularemia, models the spread of the coronavirus.

Valencia, a top soccer team in Spain, was starting to take heat from the local media and some rival teams for what they considered to be an overreaction to the threat posed by a mystery illness that had spread to Europe from Asia.

It was Feb. 29. No other team in Spain had yet dared to impose such harsh measures: The club’s first team was to be isolated. There was to be no contact with fans. All interviews, even those deemed mandatory as a part of Spanish soccer’s broadcast contract, would be banned. Employees who did not have a reason to be at the stadium were barred from attending.

Anil Murthy, the team president and a former diplomat for Singapore, had spoken to friends and family in Asia and knew the coronavirus outbreak was serious and on its way, no matter what the view in Spain was at the time.

The news media greeted Mr. Murthy with a wave of negative headlines until shortly before the league suspended all activities.

Mr. Murthy, who spent almost 16 years working with Singapore’s government, was keeping an eye on what was happening there while the team owner was sending daily updates.

The club’s staff got to work, preparing for the outbreak in part by purchasing protective clothing and equipment.

Since then, 35 percent of Valencia’s first team has tested positive for the coronavirus.

President Moon Jae-in’s governing party in South Korea won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, as he leveraged his surging popularity over his country’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus to increase his political sway.​

With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Moon’s ​left-leaning ​Democratic Party had won 163 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, according to the National Election Commission. A satellite party the Democrats created for Wednesday’s elections won 17 seats.

Together, the two groups took three-fifths of the seats, giving Mr. Moon the largest majority in three decades.

The main conservative opposition group, the United Future Party, and its own satellite, Future Korea Party, suffered a crushing defeat, winning ​103 seats​ between them​. ​The remaining seats were taken by independents and candidates from smaller parties.

Pandemic or not, South Koreans proved eager to vote in the election, widely seen as a midterm referendum on Mr. Moon​, who was elected to a five-year term in 2017.​ The voter turnout was 66.2 percent, the highest for a parliamentary election in 28 years.

It was the first time in 16 years that left-leaning parties ​secured a parliamentary majority, as South Koreans expressed their support for Mr. Moon’s government, which has won plaudits for bringing the epidemic under control​. ​

The victory could embolden Mr. Moon to reinvigorate his stalled diplomacy with North Korea and ​press ahead with domestic priorities, like overhauling state prosecutors’ offices, ​​ ​which have ​​long ​been ​accused of abusing their power.

So many men. Men at the bakery, men on bikes, men in parks, men in the grocery aisles.

“It’s weird,” said Adriana Pérez, 40, a nurse in scrubs waiting at the bank, the only woman in sight. “But it’s working.”

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, joined Panama this week in instituting a gender-based virus-prevention measure designed to limit the number of people in the streets.

On odd-numbered days, men can leave the house to seek out essentials. On even-numbered days, it’s the women’s turn.

There are exceptions for people working in critical industries, like food service and health care. Dog walkers of any gender can leave for 20 minutes. But beyond that, anyone caught breaking the rule is subject to a fine of $240, about the minimum monthly salary in Colombia.

Bogotá’s mayor, Claudia López, the first woman and the first openly gay individual to lead the city, has said that transgender people can follow the gender with which they identify. The authorities, the health order says, should respect “diverse gender manifestations.”

During the first two days of the measure, 104 women and 610 men were sanctioned by the police for violating the order, according to Ms. López. Violators must pay half the fine within five days or face a potential day in court.

Peru had enacted a similar measure, but President Martín Vizcarra canceled it following criticism that it would lead to discrimination against transgender people.

The Colombia measure is reminiscent of Bogotá’s best-known traffic policy, which restricts cars by license plate number and is a defining feature of life in the city during normal times.

The city has been under quarantine for nearly a month, which has been particularly difficult on people with jobs in the informal sector, who typically support their families on the work they do that day or that week.

On Wednesday, Yesica Benavides, 24, stood amid the men on a Bogotá sidewalk, trying to sell candy. She had no gloves or face covering, having given her only mask to her 3-year-old, Nicole, who was by her side.

“We go out every day,” she said. The two have been sleeping in a motel, and they pay their rent nightly. “If we don’t go out,” Ms. Benavides said, “we don’t eat.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle, Andrew E. Kramer and Tariq Panja.


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