Parliament to shut down 'until further notice' because of Covid-19

17 March 2020 - 17:12 By THABO MOKONE
Parliament is suspending activities as a precaution amidst the spread of the coronavirus.
Parliament is suspending activities as a precaution amidst the spread of the coronavirus.
Image: GCIS

Public access to parliament has been stopped until further notice because of the coronavirus.

The national legislature is also taking steps to reduce the number of staff allowed within the precinct, where on a busy day thousands of civil servants, politicians and other stakeholders interact.

Apart from more than 400 MPs and other politicians operating from the precinct, parliament has more than 1,000 people in its employ.

Parliament said activities would be suspended from Wednesday afternoon until further notice.

The National Assembly planned to meet on Wednesday to pass crucial pieces of legislation that can't be delayed any further, such as the Division of Revenue Bill and the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, and to endorse the salaries payable to magistrates and judges of the superior courts.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the decision was taken on Tuesday after an urgent meeting between presiding officers, party chief whips and other political party representatives.

The move follows cabinet's decision to ban events and gatherings of more than 100 people as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

"The presiding officers wish to encourage all members, staff and visitors to take the necessary personal precautions," said Mothapo.

Scores of parliamentary staff and MPs were on Tuesday seen subjecting themselves to medical screening within the parliamentary compound.

"Parliament has also put in place various preventative measures against the coronavirus, including sanitisers, screening checks for members, staff and visitors, as well as a medical support team," said Mothapo.

"At the conclusion of the sitting on Wednesday the business of the assembly, which includes sittings of the house, committees and public hearings, will be suspended until further notice.

"The last sitting of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) will be on Thursday and its business will also be suspended until further notice.

"Parliament will be closed to the public until further notice.

"Arrangements are also being made to reduce the number of staff members in the precinct, in line with the president's announcement."