OTTAWA – The flash spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant is causing federal politicians to reconsider the wisdom of having hundreds of MPs crammed together in the House of Commons.
House of Commons Leader Mark Holland announced on Tuesday that the Liberals would “dramatically reduce” the number of their MPs in the chamber and plan to hold fully virtual caucuses for the time being.
Liberals are following the advice of public health officials, who are warning Canadians that “now is not the time for large gatherings and the smaller the better.” “, Holland said, noting that experience in other countries shows that the Omicron variant is up to eight more contagious than the Delta variant.
It is particularly important, he added, to limit gatherings of MPs “coming from every region of the country and going back to all areas of the country”.
Holland met with his opposition counterparts to advise them on the Liberal Party’s decision but said it was up to them to decide whether to follow through.
A new Democratic Party official said the party was still looking into the matter but would likely take a similar stance.
Bloc Quebecois spokesman Julien Coulombe-Bannafous said the bloc’s caucus will meet in person on Wednesday, “respecting all the sanitary measures in effect.” He added that all MPs and staff in attendance were fully vaccinated.
In addition, Coulombe-Bonnafous said the bloc will “remain cautious and will adjust, as we have done since the start of the pandemic, depending on developments and public health recommendations.”
Blake Richards said his caucus will also meet in person on Wednesday. He did not commit to taking any other steps, other than saying “As always, the Conservatives will continue to adhere to all applicable public health guidelines.”
Both the Conservatives and the Bloc argued last month to get the House of Commons and in-person committees back to normal, complaining that the combined format previously used during the pandemic had allowed ministries to Cabinet chiefs are free from opposition scrutiny.
In the face of Tory and Bloc opposition, the New Liberals and Democrats joined forces to pass the resumption of the incorporation format, giving MPs the option of virtually participating in the proceedings.
However, since the new parliamentary session opened three weeks ago, most of the country’s 338 MPs have presented themselves in the House of Commons. They are required to wear masks – which must be removed when an MP is voting – but the close seating arrangement makes it impossible to maintain two meters of physical distance between MPs when the room is crowded.
On Tuesday night, Holland said the Liberals would only allow 25 to 30 MPs to sit on their side of the room, including what he called a “strong cabinet presence”. The rest will participate remotely via video conferencing.
He suggested that the appearance of the highly infectious variant of Omicron demonstrates the wisdom of retaining the hybrid format.
“What’s clear as we continue the fight against COVID-19 is that nothing is predictable,” Holland said.
“One of the things I said as we promoted the importance of mixed provisions was that we had to remain flexible and adaptive as the public health situation changed.”
Holland said there could be more changes coming to accommodate the bushfire spread of the Omicron variant, including the ability to require anyone entering the Commons to have a third booster shot, in addition to the requirement. current dual vaccination requirements.
He did not rule out the possibility of extending Congress’s six-week holiday if the wave of the Omicron pandemic worsens, as public health experts fear. The break will begin Friday night and is currently expected to continue until January 31.
This Canadian Press report was first published on December 14, 2021