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Boris Johnson makes history by taking first ever ‘virtual’ PMQs

Boris Johnson made history today by taking the first ever ‘virtual’ PMQs while he self-isolates in Downing Street.

Mr Johnson is being grilled by MPs via video link after Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said it was ‘better than nothing’. 

Sitting in front of a pale No10-branded background in a suit and tie, Mr Johnson adapted the tradition opening line having had meetings this morning to say he had been attending ‘virtual’ meetings.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was in the chamber in person to conduct the regular interrogation.

And despite the technological challenges there were combative exchanges, with Sir Keir slamming Mr Johnson for leaked comments complaining that Scottish devolution had been a ‘disaster’.

”The biggest threat to the UK is the PM every time he opens his mouth on this,’ the Labour leader jibed. 

Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about the cluster centred on No10 that has plunged the PM into quarantine.

Testing tsar Baroness Harding today revealed that she has been ordered to self-isolate by her own coronavirus contact tracing app. 

Lady Harding was pictured going into Downing Street on Friday morning, the day after Mr Johnson held a mask-free meeting with Tory MPs including Lee Anderon, who later tested positive.

NHS medical chief Stephen Powis has also revealed he is in quarantine, having been at a press conference in No10 on Thursday night – although he said it was because a member of his household had tested positive.  

Baroness Harding, who heads the NHS Test and Trace service, is self-isolating after receiving an alert from her service

Baroness Harding, who heads the NHS Test and Trace service, is self-isolating after receiving an alert from her service

Baroness Harding was pictured going into Downing Street on Friday morning

Baroness Harding was pictured going into Downing Street on Friday morning 

Boris Johnson is isolating at his No11 flat after a mask-free meeting last Thursday with Tory MP Lee Anderson, who later tested positive

Boris Johnson is isolating at his No11 flat after a mask-free meeting last Thursday with Tory MP Lee Anderson, who later tested positive

Timeline of the No10 coronavirus drama 

Thursday, November 12

Boris Johnson meets with a group of northern Tory MPs in Downing Street. They are pictured in photographs standing relatively close together, and not wearing masks.

Morning of Friday, November 13

Baroness Dido Harding is pictured arriving in Downing Street for meetings.

Evening of Sunday, November 15

No10 announces that the PM has gone into self-isolation after one of the MPs he met, Lee Anderson, tested positive for coronavirus. He does not have any symptoms.

His isolation is expected to end at some point on November 26, although aides do not clarify the exact time. 

Monday, November 16

It emerges that many of the other Tory MPs in the group have also gone into self-isolation. Mr Johnson posts a video saying he is ‘bursting with antibodies’ and feeling well.

Tuesday, November 17

Downing Street reveals that the PM has taken a test and was negative.

It emerges No10 has been part of a trial of the rapid lateral flow kits, which is why he was able to access a test with no symptoms. 

Morning of Wednesday, November 18

Baroness Harding reveals she has been ordered to self-isolate.

The image of the notification from the app shows her quarantine is due to end at midnight on the morning of Friday, November 27, shortly after the PM is due to be freed.  

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Lady Harding posted an image of the notification saying ‘you need to self-isolate’, saying she was ‘feeling well’ but remarking ruefully that she had ‘many hours Zoom ahead’.

Lady Harding’s husband, Tory MP John Penrose, has previously been told to self-isolate after potentially coming into contact with someone who was infected. 

But the timings will spark speculation over whether there is a link to Boris Johnson’s quarantine. 

The notification shows that Lady Harding should be freed from the restrictions at midnight on the morning of November 27, hours after the PM is due to be allowed to leave his Downing Street lockdown.

Mr Johnson went into isolation at his No11 flat after a mask-free meeting last Thursday with Tory MP Lee Anderson, who later tested positive. A series of other Tories are also in quarantine due to the gathering.  

Lady Harding was pictured going into Downing Street on Friday morning. No10 sources played down a link, pointing out that Mr Johnson has so far tested negative.

She posted an image of the app ‘ping’ this morning, and wrote: ‘Nothing like personal experience of your own products …. got this overnight. Feeling well. Many hours of Zoom ahead.’

 

Mr Penrose was ordered to self-isolate by the app last week. 

However, Lady Harding did not have to at that point as she had not received an alert.

Under the rules, she only had to quarantine with Mr Penrose if he developed symptoms.  

Weston-super-Mare MP Mr Penrose said on Twitter last week: ‘It never rains but it pours…. my NHS app has just gone off, telling me to self-isolate, which I’m doing.

‘No symptoms so far *crosses fingers*’

Asked if he had spoken to his wife about it, he said: ‘We are trying to make sure we are doing it by the book, if I can put it that way.

‘Her NHS app has not gone off, so it’s someone I have been in contact with rather than her.’

In response to a suggestion that it showed the system worked, Mr Penrose said: ‘I suppose it does.’

Data released last week revealed that the NHS Test and Trace system is continuing to struggle to reach much more than 60 per cent of the close contacts of people who test positive for coronavirus.

Government figures published on Thursday showed 60.4 per cent of close contacts in England were reached through Test and Trace in the week ending November 4.

It was the fourth week in a row the figure has been around 60 per cent, having dropped from 77.2 per cent during the week ending September 16.

The data came after Lady Harding said testing and trace on its own is not a ‘silver bullet’ to hold back the spread of coronavirus.

She told a committee of MPs on November 10 that the evidence in the UK and across Europe was that it was just one of a range of interventions needed to tackle the virus.

Mr Johnson is set to make history today by taking PMQs from self-isolation rather than having his deputy Dominic Raab stand-in for him at the despatch box.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be in the Commons chamber for the weekly clash with the Prime Minister on Wednesday as usual.

The Government has been under pressure to extend remote participation in parliamentary debates amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

On Sunday, when news of the Prime Minister’s self-isolation broke, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said he had been ‘urgently exploring how we can support additional virtual participation’ – but that move was apparently unrelated to Mr Johnson’s circumstances.

Up to 50 MPs can attend the Commons chamber due to social distancing requirements, while Zoom contributions are currently allowed for questions sessions, urgent questions and ministerial statements.

But today’s session will be the first time that the Prime Minister has answered questions using the video conferencing software. 

John Penrose, the MP husband of Test and Trace chief Baroness Harding (pictured: The couple together), has been told to self-isolate by the coronavirus app - though she has not been asked to

John Penrose, the MP husband of Test and Trace chief Baroness Harding (pictured together), was recently told to self-isolate by the coronavirus app

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