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Parliament Hill set to adapt over COVID-19 concerns

OTTAWA — There are some changes coming to improve safety on Parliament Hill after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed he is going into isolation after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
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OTTAWA — There are some changes coming to improve safety on Parliament Hill after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed he is going into isolation after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.

The House of Commons was already set to take a scheduled break next week, but now, even if the session does resume March 23 as planned, Trudeau is not expected to be there.

That is because he is going into a period of isolation for 14 days after Sophie Gregoire Trudeau learned she had contracted the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus spreading rapidly around the world.

A statement from his office late Thursday said it was a precautionary measure and that since he is showing no symptoms, doctors have advised against him being tested at this time.

It also cited medical advice that said those who have been near him recently are not at risk.

Earlier Thursday, the House of Commons was already grappling with how to respond after it was announced that Trudeau and his wife had gone into self-isolation when she started showing flu-like symptoms.

MPs on the all-party board of internal economy that governs the House of Commons discussed potential measures with public health officials at a scheduled meeting Thursday, but were not able to come to any immediate conclusions.

Speaker Anthony Rota, who chairs the governing body, had already issued instructions to MPs that mimic the public health advice to the public, including frequent hand washing and staying home while sick.

"We've been providing the MPs and all staff on the Hill with some guidelines and instructions on how to deal with the coronavirus at this time," Rota said.

The board of internal economy already has a pandemic plan designed to allow MPs to perform their constitutional duties in the event of an outbreak.

Minor changes could be seen in West Block outside of the House of Commons Thursday, including hand-sanitizer stations and stanchions set up to keep media at a greater distance from elected officials during interviews.

Press gallery staff have also started wiping down microphones between interviews with disinfecting wipes to limit the spread of germs.

Conservative MP Mark Strahl said members of his party have been encouraged to go back to their constituencies if they're not feeling well.

The Senate announced Thursday evening it would adopt temporary measures to protect the health of parliamentarians, as well as staffers and visitors during the outbreak.

That includes putting a halt to guided tours of the temporary Senate building, suspending events in the building involving outside guests and allowing only parliamentarians, staffers and journalists into the building.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2020.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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