Officials at the Department for Health and Social Care who have come into close contact with Nadine Dorries could be told to stay at home after the health minister became the first MP to test positive for the novel coronavirus Covid-19.
Dorries said in a statement yesterday that she was self-isolating and that Public Health England was tracing people she had come into contact with in recent days. She first began to feel unwell last Thursday – the same day she attended an event at Downing Street hosted by the prime minister – and started exhibiting the classic symptoms of Covid-19, a dry cough and chest pain on Sunday.
Yesterday she was one of 382 confirmed cases of the virus in the UK. Six people in the country have died as a result.
"Public Health England (PHE) has started detailed contact tracing and the department and my parliamentary office are closely following their advice," the Mid Bedfordshire MP said.
"I would like to thank PHE and the wonderful NHS staff who have provided me with advice and support."
As well as last week’s event to mark International Women’s Day, Dorries is thought to have attended several meetings in the last week, and met constituents on Friday. She voted twice in the House of Commons, meaning she may have come into contact with hundreds of MPs.
Some of those she has come into contact with – including Labour MP Rachael Maskell – have already been told not to go to work.
“NHS111 have advised that I self-isolate as a result of a meeting I had with the government's mental health minister last Thursday who has subsequently tested positive for coronavirus,” Maskell said on Twitter this morning.
“Thankfully I am asymptomatic. It is so important that we all follow all public health advice.”
Dorries told Sky News that she would work remotely, holding meetings over the phone. "This will become a norm over the coming weeks and days as we are seeing more people being diagnosed with coronavirus," she said.
A Downing Street source said the prime minister has no coronavirus symptoms and would not be tested.
The news came as the Bank of England announced an emergency cut to the base interest rate, from 0.85% to 0.25%, in a bid to mitigate the economic impact of the outbreak. Borrowing is now at the lowest rate it has ever been.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is expected to set out extra funding in today’s Budget for public services tackling the outbreak. He will also announce measures to support businesses left out of pocket, and to make it easier for workers, particularly those who are self employed, to follow public health advice to stay home if they are instructed to do so.
And PHE is speeding up testing for Covid-19. The agency has so far carried out around 25,000 tests, and is to increase the number of people it can test every day from 1,500 to 10,000. Most people will receive their results within 24 hours.
Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to make a statement to MPs on the next steps in the government's covid-19 response this evening.