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Plexiglass houses: Parliaments adapt to the coronavirus age

por Leopoldo Summerfield (2020-10-23)


apple-iphone-xr-in-all-official-dimensioATHENS, Greece (AP) - "Pfft, pfft..." The sound came through loud and clear on Greece´s parliament TV during a change of speakers: the sound of disinfectant sprayed onto microphones and the new plexiglass box installed around the podium.

This is parliament in the time of coronavirus.

Across Europe and beyond, parliaments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus from spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape - each country´s legislature has its own measures.

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GREECE

A three-sided plexiglass box now adorns the speaker´s podium to protect parliament staff seated just beneath. After each speaker, a worker usually in a mask and gloves wipes down the plexiglass and microphones with disinfectant. Only a fraction of the 300 lawmakers are allowed inside at any one time, with just one or two people seated in each row. Those unable to attend debates vote by letter.






FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2020 file photo, an employee of the Greek parliament, wearing a face mask to protect from the coronavirus, cleans a protective plastic shield in Athens. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)


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SPAIN AND PORTUGAL

Only the minimum number of lawmakers are allowed into meetings in Portugal's parliament and in Spain's Congress of Deputies, where sometimes just one person per party speaks to a near-empty hall.

Spanish parliament's disinfecting efforts have cast a spotlight on some of the civil servants charged with cleaning the marble corridors and wooden balustrades of the 19th-century building. Images of cleaner Valentina Cepeda wiping down the microphone between each speech were broadcast live in March, turning her into an online celebrity and earning her a round of applause from lawmakers, a rare instance of consensus among politicians.

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ITALY

In hard-hit Italy, masks are the essential accessory for lawmakers during socially distanced debates. Taking one´s mask off, even to speak, risks the ire of colleagues. Several lawmakers heckled Premier Giuseppe Conte, shouting "mask, mask," when he removed his to speak during a recent debate. Conte and lower chamber speaker Roberto Fico retorted that the government´s seats are more distanced than the lawmakers´, therefore speaking without a mask is allowed.

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BRITAIN

Parliament in Britain, whose Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized in intensive care with a bout of COVID-19, has adopted what it calls a "hybrid" model, with most lawmakers attending debates by video conference.

A maximum 50 of the 650 legislators are allowed inside the House of Commons chamber at any one time, where black and yellow hazard tape on the floor helps keep people apart. Red "no sitting" signs are affixed to the green Commons benches. Screens erected around the wood-paneled chamber show those participating remotely. Lawmakers plan to begin voting electronically rather than by the age-old method of traipsing out of the Commons and through "yes" or "no" lobbies.

Dozens of British lawmakers, advisers, civil servants and journalists have contracted coronavirus, likely infected in the cramped precincts of Parliament and other government buildings.

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GERMANY

The Bundestag has been holding regular sessions with the appropriate social distancing. Public viewing areas have been closed so politicians can occupy that space and ensure each maintains the appropriate distance from the other, sitting several chairs apart. Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble said in April that amid a global crisis like the pandemic, face-to-face discussion is more important than ever. "Parliamentary debate cannot be supplanted by video conferences, and also not through e-mail votes," he said.

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FRANCE, BELGIUM, NETHERLANDS

Both houses of parliament in France, and the Belgian and Dutch parliaments, have limited the number of lawmakers and staff who can attend sessions, and those present must maintain social distance.

In France's lower house, the National Assembly, masks are a personal choice for lawmakers, although parliament staff wear them. Senators in the upper house have been asked to work from home and only appear in person when necessary. Visitors are banned.

Voting in the Belgian parliament is done remotely, making for a largely empty chamber.

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RUSSIA

In Russia, it´s mostly business as usual. When the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, held its last meeting on April 17, many members participated remotely. Some of those present wore masks, but many others, including Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, didn´t. Disinfection equipment has been installed, but lawmakers sat close to each other, paying no attention to social distancing. In March, 12 lawmakers were quarantined after one lower house member failed to report his foreign trip. Duma members also have undergone frequent coronavirus tests.

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CROATIA

Croatian lawmakers faced a problem of a different nature, as an earthquake damaged the parliament building, forcing them to seek alternative locations to hold their sessions. They eventually settled on the large conference hall of a Zagreb hotel for a session in early April, sitting on chairs placed far from each other. They have since returned to the parliament building, but with the appropriate social distancing.

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LEBANON

Lebanese lawmakers took a more drastic step. They moved their parliamentary session to a cavernous Beirut theater to allow enough room for social distancing. Outside the theater, known as the UNESCO palace, white uniformed paramedics sprayed disinfectant on mask-wearing lawmakers as they arrived. The staggered, three-day session in late April was the first since Lebanon imposed a coronavirus lockdown in March.

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Associated Press journalists across Europe and in Lebanon contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at website and website






FILE - In this Monday, May 4, 2020 file photo, a man checks his phone as he stands next to plastic circles on the ground indicating where to stand to respect social distances at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)







FILE - In this Friday, March 13, 2020 file photo, employees of the Greek Parliament wear plastic gloves ahead of a swearing in ceremony of the newly elected Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in Athens. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, Pool, File)







FILE - In this Monday, May 4, 2020 file photo, an employee at Fisheye in Wetteren, Belgium, assembles a plexiglass protection shield. The company has been continuously busy fulfilling orders for the shields for pharmacies, small businesses and government officies. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)







FILE - In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020 file photo, Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks, behind a protective plastic shield against the spread of coronavirus, at the Greek Parliament in Athens. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)







FILE - In this Thursday, April 23, 2020 file photo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, front right, and ministers of the German government attend a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)







FILE - In this Thursday, May 7, 2020 file photo, Translators each disinfect their own booths prior to a press conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures.(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool, File)







FILE - In this Tuesday, April 21, 2020 file photo, Lebanon's parliament begins a three-day legislative session at a Beirut theater so legislators can observe coronavirus social distancing measures, in Beirut, Lebanon. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)







FILE - In this Wednesday, April 22, 2020 file photo, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wears a protective mask and sits behind a plexiglass sheild during a parliament session in Vienna, Austria. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)







FILE - In this Tuesday, May 5, ?????? 2020 file photo, members of the Zimbabwe Parliament attend the house in Harare, Zimbabwe. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)







FILE - In this Tuesday, March 31, 2020 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, center, speaks with employees as he visits the Kolmi-Hopen protective face masks factory in Saint-Barthelemy-d'Anjou near Angers, central France. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (Loic Venance, Pool via AP, File)







FILE - In this Thursday, March 26, 2020 file photo, Senate personnel disinfect a microphone during a session where Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte addressed the parliament on the ongoing coronavirus, COVID-19, situation, in Rome. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP, File)







FILE - In this Friday, April 3, 2020 file photo, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the conservative ruling party Law and Justice, second row right, takes part in a parliamentary session in Warsaw, Poland. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)







FILE - In this Thursday, April 23, 2020 file photo, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa attends a video conference call with members of the European Council from his official residence, the Sao bento palace in Lisbon. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)







FILE - In this Wednesday, March 25, 2020 file photo, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, right, speaks in a nearly empty parliament while the majority of lawmakers follow the session online before a vote to approve the extension of the national lockdown in Madrid, Spain. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (Mariscal, Pool photo via AP, File)







FILE - In this Thursday, April 9, 2020 file photo, a cleaner disinfects the tribune between speeches during a parliamentary session in Madrid, Spain. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (Mariscal, Pool Photo via AP, File)







FILE - In this Wednesday, April 22, 2020 file photo released by the UK Parliament, opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, sitting center left, faces Dominic Raab, standing center right, inside of the House of Commons as members practice social distancing measures to combat coronavirus, COVID-19, as parliament goes online with most members of parliament participating via a video link, during Prime Minister's Questions time in London. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP, File)







FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2020 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, displayed on TV screen on the right, during their meeting via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia. Across Europe and beyond, parliaments and governments have had to adapt their operations to stop the virus spreading through the corridors of power. Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape, each country's legislature has its own measures. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)







In this Tuesday, April 7, 2020 file photo, Croatian parliament members attend a session at a hotel in Zagreb. Croatian lawmakers met at a conference hall in a Zagreb hotel after the parliament building was damaged in a recent earthquake. The members of parliament sat at a distance, away from each other as part of measures designed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo, File)