Downing Street on Monday insisted it is Covid-secure, after Boris Johnson was among a number of Conservative MPs forced to self-isolate after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
On Sunday night the prime minister said he would be self-isolating for 14 days after attending a meeting in Number 10 with six Tory MPs, one of whom — Lee Anderson — later tested positive for coronavirus.
Pictures have since emerged of Mr Johnson and Mr Anderson standing less than 2 metres apart and without face coverings at the meeting on Thursday last week, sparking concern about the application of Covid-19 safety measures within Downing Street.
The prime minister’s spokesperson insisted Number 10 was following coronavirus protocols, including at the meeting involving Mr Johnson and Mr Anderson.
“Social distancing was observed at the meeting,” said the spokesperson. “It is also the case that Number 10 is a Covid-secure workplace.”
Mr Johnson, who spent time in intensive care in hospital after contracting coronavirus in the spring, was eager on Monday to emphasise his good health and desire to continue working.
He described himself as “fit as a butcher’s dog” on a video posted on Twitter.
Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson planned to participate online in prime minister’s questions on Wednesday in the House of Commons, subject to approval by parliamentary officials.
Mr Johnson, who is working from his Downing Street office while self-isolating, told staff on a Zoom call that the government’s priority was tackling the coronavirus pandemic and pursuing its plan to “level up” the UK by reducing regional inequalities.
But Mr Johnson’s requirement to self-isolate has set back his plans to relaunch his government this week after Downing Street infighting that culminated in the departure of chief adviser Dominic Cummings and head of communications Lee Cain.
Part of the prime minister’s efforts to reset his government also involve him fostering better relations with Conservative MPs who objected to the influence and abrasive approach of Mr Cummings and Mr Cain.
However, there are growing concerns within Westminster about the safety of MPs and staff after some Conservative MPs said they were self-isolating after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
These include five Conservative members who attended Thursday’s meeting involving Mr Johnson and Mr Anderson.
In a Commons debate, several Labour MPs voiced their concern over the number of Covid-19 cases in parliament.
Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, said the Commons was “full” of coronavirus. Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, said: “This is not a safe environment for us to attend, that is the fact of the matter and that is the truth.”
A House of Commons spokesperson said it followed Public Health England guidance on dealing with coronavirus.
Prospect, a trade union that represents staff on the parliamentary estate, said Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg had to change his approach to parliamentary proceedings and focus on the welfare of MPs and staff.
The union is calling for a return to remote voting by MPs that was used during the spring lockdown.