Many firsts amid shadow of Covid

Parliament is fully prepared for the 18-day Monsoon Session from Monday under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic with many firsts, including sitting of the two Houses in shifts without any off day, entry only to those having a negative COVID-19 report and compulsory wearing of masks.

In the run-up to the session, while over 4,000 people including MPs and staff have been tested for COVID-19, most parliamentary operations have been digitized, entire premises sanitised and doors made touch-free.

The first-of-its-kind Monsoon Session will see Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sitting in two different shifts, while special seating arrangements have been made for MPs in adherence to social distancing guidelines.

Barring the first day, Rajya Sabha will convene in morning shift from 9 am till 1 pm, and Lok Sabha in evening shift from 3 pm to 7 pm. The chambers of both houses along with their respective galleries will be used for sitting of the members in each shift.

In between the two shifts, the entire complex will be sanitised.

Entry in the premises will be allowed only on production of a COVID-19 negative report, with the test conducted not more than 72 hours before the start of the session. Frequent sanitisation of the entire parliament complex will also be carried out, while arrangements have been made to sanitise various parliamentary papers as well as footwear and cars of MPs, officials said.

Frisking of people will also make way for touch-less security scanning, while thermal scanning will also be totally touch-free.

For making the entire Parliament complex a safe zone in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu had held a series of extensive discussions with officials of the Home Ministry, Health Ministry, ICMR and the DRDO.

As per the standard operating procedures finalised for holding the session from September 14 till October 1, the MPs and staff of secretariats of both houses, as also the media personnel covering the proceedings, will be asked to undergo COVID-19 test, not more than 72 hours before the start of the session.

Officials said arrangements were made for tests of close to 4,000 people, including the MPs, staff members and journalists. Only MPs and ministers will be allowed inside the main building, while necessary seating arrangements will be made for separate sitting of their personal staff in the complex. A new seating arrangement following social distancing guidelines has been prepared by both houses for their respective members. The MPs will also be allowed to address the Chair while seated and wearing their masks so that the risk of infection might be minimised. It has also been decided that air of air conditioners will be exchanged six times every day to avoid any possible infection. The DRDO will also provide multi-utility COVID-19 kits to all MPs.