MPs and peers are unable to utilise the NHS test-and-trace app at restaurants and cafes in the Palace of Westminster, union officials have said.
PCS union said the parliamentary authorities were putting their members at risk by ignoring government advice to display QR codes around hospitality venues in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This is despite threats of heavy fines for the UK’s restaurants, cafes and canteens that fail to display a QR code.
It comes a day after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the capital would be placed in tier 2 status, under which indoor mixing between households is banned. Bars and restaurants are allowed to remain open.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, on Thursday banned the sale of alcohol across the parliamentary estate.
A PCS spokesman said the lack of use of the app at food venues on the estate was increasing risks for union members. “We are appalled that there are no QR codes on restaurants and bars in parliament. The lack of care for our members’ health and safety increases the likelihood that we will have further absences and a serious outbreak of Covid in parliament.
“The government has once again shown scant regard for staff safety and we urge them to address of members’ health and safety concerns as a matter of urgency.”
According to official advice, all hospitality services including pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and canteens must have an NHS QR code poster. A QR code allows users of smartphones to mark their presence at venues to help contact tracers to find all the people who might have been exposed to the virus.
Digitally checking in is not mandatory, and venues must maintain a paper log to serve those who cannot, or will not, use the NHS app.
A House of Commons spokesperson said there are QR codes at entrances to the estate, but not elsewhere. However, one former minister told the Guardian that only a minority of people entering the estate were utilising QR codes at the entrances. “There is a QR code at entrances, but no one suggests that you should use it,” the former minister said.
“Once you are on the estate, you can go where you want – there are no other QR codes as far I have seen. There could be better advice about how we should behave.”
Parliamentary sources also claim that dozens of police were off work because they had been diagnosed with or were suspected to have Covid 19. One official said that around 10% of security guards – roughly 30 – were off work with suspected or diagnosed Covid.
A spokesperson for the House of Commons said: “The parliamentary estate fully supports the NHS contact-tracing app, with QR codes displayed at entrances to the estate, as well as at the external shop.
“The parliamentary estate is a secure, pass-accessed workplace, which means we have a record and details of all passholders on site if needed, to aid in contact tracing.”
Asked about rising suspected coronavirus cases on the parliamentary estate, the spokesperson added that the estate remained secure. “We will not be providing specifics on numbers of cases or details of individuals affected. We closely follow PHE guidance on action to take as and where there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 on the estate.”