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Parliaments in a time of pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuts or slows down vast swathes of global activity, how are parliaments facilitating the implementation of the emergency health measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)? What impact is physical distancing and confinement having on the way parliaments function? How can parliaments debate, pass legislation and scrutinize the actions of government? And how are parliamentarians themselves reaching out to their constituents in a time of public distancing? Can democracy really be distance-friendly?

Over the next few weeks, the IPU will be reporting on how parliaments are responding to the public health crisis by passing emergency legislation, allocating resources and adopting new ways of working using the latest innovation and technology.

On this page, we list some of the measures being taken around the world. We are doing this in the interests of sharing parliamentary practice and facilitating inter-parliamentary communication. The list below is not exhaustive and the summaries are provided for information purposes only. The information on this page does not necessarily reflect the position of the IPU or constitute an endorsement of a particular course of action.

Please note that we are trying to keep the information below as accurate as possible. However, as the situation is evolving rapidly, some points may have changed since publishing.

Let us know how your parliament and parliamentarians are responding to the pandemic by writing to press@ipu.org

First published: 25 March 2020

Updated on 27 March 2020 with new information from Croatia, Poland, Tunisia, Timor-Leste and the United Arab Emirates.

Updated on 30 March 2020 with new information from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Denmark, Ecuador, Hungary and Norway.

Updated on 31 March 2020 with new information from Austria, Latvia, Maldives and Mexico.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

Afghanistan

The Afghan Parliament is suspended for three weeks because of the pandemic.

Austria

The Austrian Parliament is still in session, with government and opposition parliamentarians working together to implement emergency pandemic measures.

B

Bahrain

The Shura Council is deploying IT teams to support virtual meetings of its committees.

Brazil

Brazil has passed a new resolution which enables the Parliament to work remotely during a public health emergency using video-conferencing and virtual management tools. The system allows MPs to register to a session and shows all phases of the legislative process including the bill under discussion, amendments, the results of each voting round, speeches, and committee agendas.

The first remote plenary session took place on 20 March and was livecast to the public through the Parliament’s media and digital platforms.

The resolution also specifies that face-to-face deliberations must be resumed as soon as sessions can be organized that are compatible with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health.

Bulgaria

The Bulgarian Parliament has voted to suspend all plenary sessions for the duration of the State of Emergency, which has been extended to 13 April for now. The National Assembly will only consider issues directly related to the coronavirus emergency regime.

C

Canada

The House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion on 13 March adjourning the House until 20 April, cancelling scheduled committee meetings, and either postponing or expediting certain decisions and actions. The motion left open the possibility of an extension of the adjournment if in the public interest, as well as the possibility to recall the House to consider measures to address the economic impact of COVID-19 and the impacts of the lives of citizens.

On 24 March, the Government asked the Speaker to recall the House of Commons to debate the introduction of urgent economic measures, as part of Canada’s 82-billion-dollar response to support workers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of Parliament from all parties rallied behind the measures to help Canadians, workers, and businesses experiencing financial hardship, and they unanimously adopted the emergency legislation. The House is now adjourned again.

Croatia

The Croatian Parliament building suffered serious infrastructural damage due to the series of earthquakes on 22 March. As a result, the Parliament is working out of the building of INA, the State oil company, which has limited space and technical support.

The Parliament has introduced necessary measures such as hand sanitizing and social distancing in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 on its premises. Seating arrangements ensure that only two MPs per Deputy Club are permitted to attend the plenary session at a time.

The work of committees is organized through teleworking, emails and phone, and parliamentary staff have been asked to work from home.

The Croatian Parliament also recently adopted new measures regarding a temporary ban on people leaving their place of residence and a ban on crossing the State border.

D

Denmark

The Danish Parliament has adopted legislation on health-related issues as well as initiatives to ensure business continuity in the public and private sector.

E

Ecuador

At a seven-hour remote meeting, the National Assembly agreed a draft resolution setting out political and social commitments to deal with the CORVID-19 crisis. The resolution recognizes the important role played by the National Health Service and calls for resources to be assigned to it as a matter of priority. It also asks the national government to ensure that medical staff have the necessary equipment, medicines and protections to face the pandemic. During the debate, MPs insisted on the importance of continuing exercising parliamentary oversight over the executive and of ensuring transparency and access to information.

The National Assembly also issued a solidarity statement signed by all parties calling for the Ministry of Economy and Finance to release all available cash resources to cover the costs and investments required by the state of emergency, particularly to support a fully functioning national health service and to keep the social protection system and ancillary services (police, security, logistics) running.

The all-party statement also asked the Government to join forces with other Latin American and Caribbean countries and the Organization of American States to appeal to multilateral institutions and creditors to temporarily suspend external debt repayments.

European Parliament

European Parliament continues its essential activities and thus ensuring critical democratic infrastructure, in particular the plenary sessions, parliamentary committees and governing bodies. All Members are allowed to be present unless they are sick or have travelled to risk areas in the past two weeks. Those who wish or cannot physically attend can participate remotely. Social distancing measures within the Chamber are taken for the Members who come.

F

France

The National Assembly has reduced parliamentary activity to examining only urgent and essential texts linked to the pandemic. Sessions are still being held face-to-face but with some restrictions.

G

Germany

The Bundestag is continuing to sit but with a restricted programme and fewer Members present. Business before the chamber has been prioritized to remove all but essential debates. Discussions are ongoing on how to manage the quorum of the Bundestag with a significantly reduced number of deputies.

H

Hungary

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hungarian National Assembly is set to vote on a new law on coronavirus. The new legislation does not provide for a cut-off date and allows the government to extend the state of emergency indefinitely. Parliament, however, could end the emergency situation at any time once the pandemic ended. The bill also introduces jail terms of up to five years for intentionally spreading misinformation that hinders government response to the pandemic.

I

Israel

The Supreme Court has ruled that a parliamentary committee must be set up to oversee emergency powers given to the Israeli Security Agency that allow it to use surveillance technology to track the movements of people with COVID-19.

L

Latvia

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliament of Latvia (the Saeima) has held a number of extraordinary meetings and has taken urgent decisions to alleviate the consequences of the pandemic. It declared a state of emergency from 12 March until 14 April and designated the Ministry of Health the authority responsible for the coordination of activities during the emergency.

The following are some of the pandemic-related restrictive measures: shutdown of educational establishments and introduction of remote teaching; provision of childcare where needed; prohibition of events and gatherings; limitation of opening hours of non-essential services; cancellation of international passenger transport and border crossings except for transport organized by State aircraft and military transport. Non-compliance may result in administrative or criminal penalties. Also adopted were urgent amendments to a number of laws on social support to employers, persons with low income, and persons with disabilities.

A special law was adopted on support mechanisms and financial support to affected industries. Among others, the law provides that: the Government will set the criteria and procedures when applying for state aid; tax extensions and compensation not subject to personal income tax and state social security contributions to laid-off employees are granted; economic operators are freed of advance payments of personal income tax for 2020; and overpaid VAT from 1 April to 31 December 2020 will be refunded; local governments may review real estate tax and extend tax payment deadlines in 2020. The reserve capital for the state-owned development finance institution ALTUM is to be increased to fund crisis-affected companies.

Parliament also adopted amendments to the Commercial Law.

M

Maldives

Despite measures that restrict travel and non-essential outings, the People’s Majlis is continuing with its sittings via web conferencing, with members remotely joining the parliamentary sessions from their homes. The first online sitting was held on 30 March and was attended by 71 MPs out of 87. The MPs debated a motion on the Government’s proposed financial support programme as the country prepares for the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mexico

On 12 March the Chamber of Deputies, through its Executive Committee, announced to its Assembly a series of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect both legislators and staff. As, the government health authorities imposed a stay-at-home rule, the Chamber of Deputies suspended its plenary sessions from 20 March until further notice. However, meetings can be convened if a legislative decision on the COVID-19 pandemic is required. Non-essential visitor access was prohibited and non-legislative related events suspended.

The Governing Bodies of the Chamber of Deputies (the Executive Committee and the Political Coordination Board) agreed to continue with their normal activity to evaluate the situation in the country day by day so as to make decisions in a timely manner. During the Chamber’s recess, deputies will be able to continue to table bills and non-legislative proposals.

While legislative committees were requested to continue their activities, giving priority to work on legislative opinions, the Executive Committee decreed the suspension of all legal deadlines during this health contingency and granted legal protection to all procedures pending a resolution by the Chamber of Deputies or its bodies.

To carry out these activities, technological means will be used for real-time communication. A platform to hold online meetings of up to 200 people at a time has been set up.

N

New Zealand

The Parliament is adjourned for the duration of the four-week nationwide lockdown. A special committee which includes government and opposition Members of Parliament is being established to scrutinize government actions. Preparations have been made for a growing number of staff and committees to work remotely. However,  Parliament did meet on 25 March with a few MPs to receive and debate a formal epidemic notice from the Prime Minister; agree to establish an Epidemic Response Committee; pass a bill to allow the Government to access the funding it needs; and agree to adjourn the House until the alert status has been lowered.

The Parliament has also legislation in place to help it deal with the pandemic, including the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006, which gives the government the powers to modify the application of laws to respond to epidemics; and the Health Act 1956, allowing for the management of quarantinable diseases. The Parliament at its 25 March session also passed the  COVID-19 Response (Taxation and Social Assistance Urgent Measures) Bill; the COVID-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Legislation Bill; and the Imprest Supply (Third for 2019/20) Bill. 

Norway

The Norwegian Parliament (the Storting) introduced a number of measures which will be in place until end of April. These measures include: the number of MPs at plenary meetings and during voting is reduced to 87 from 169; plenary will take decisions only on urgent issues identified by the presidency following consultations with leaders of party groups in Parliament; some rules of procedure are temporarily suspended (deadlines, physical presence in Committee meetings with priority given to tele/video conferencing); reduced committee workload (priority given to urgent cases and bills); cancellation of international and domestic committee members travel. The Storting also established a coronavirus special committee.

On 21 March, Parliament adopted the Enabling Act authorizing Government to make decisions which, according to the Constitution, must be taken in Parliament. The aim is to enable Government to take measures to limit the disruption of the normal functioning of society and mitigate the negative consequences of the pandemic for the population and on the economy. The Act is valid for a month but can also be repealed by the Storting at any given time.

As part of its coronavirus regime, the Norwegian authorities also introduced a number of restrictions and measures which will be in place until mid-April. Also, at the Government’s proposal, Parliament agreed on a set of economic and social measures to alleviate the consequences of the pandemic. Updated information can be obtained from the homepages of the Norwegian Government and Norwegian Directorate of Health.

P

Poland

The Polish Sejm will allow parliamentarians to vote remotely. The Sejm statute does not permit holding sessions online, so the Presidium passed a resolution to change the statute specifically for COVID-19. Three other extraordinary states stipulated in the Constitution were also added: a state of natural disaster, martial law, and a state of emergency. 

Online voting to change the statutes will open the session of Friday, 27 March. This is to help quarantined MPs to join in the debate. There will, however, be a limited number of deputies on the parliament floor, delegated by factions to speak on their behalf. 

Each deputy will receive a video clip showing how to connect to the remote session, and their identity will be authenticated via text messages. Those staying at home will be able to ask questions and express their opinions. The session will be beamed from two wall screens in the plenary room.

S

Spain

Spain already has remote voting technology in place for members of parliament who cannot sit for medical reasons, pregnancy or maternity/paternity leave. This technology has now been rolled out to to all members and was used by the Senate last week for the first time. The system also includes electronic voting for MPs. 

T

Timor-Leste

The Parliament debated a resolution on 23 March tabled by the three biggest parliamentary groupings setting out urgent measures to respond to the impact of COVID-19 and protect citizens’ rights, essential services and the supply of goods, and outlining proportionate responses to various specific scenarios.

The recommended measures are intended to guarantee supplies of food, fuel and medical products, including by simplifying customs procedures, regulate prices and keep open air connections to bring in health workers and send out coronavirus tests to laboratories abroad.

Parliament recommends exceptional and temporary legislative, administrative and other measures to respond to the health emergency, including purchasing equipment and temporarily hiring additional personnel. The resolution also recommends social protection measures and support for the worst-hit companies, such as small businesses and street vendors.

The resolution calls on the Government to act in accordance with WHO guidelines on quarantine and isolation, step up prevention and awareness-raising measures through all platforms and in collaboration with the local authorities and the Church, as well as intensifying training for health sector staff.

The Parliament of Timor-Leste, with UNDP, has produced a public health video about COVID-19 and how to stay safe. Most of the speakers are parliamentarians. Watch the video.

Tunisia

The Assembly of People’s Representatives adopted on 26 March a resolution setting out six exceptional temporary measures to ensure the continuity of Parliament’s work during the COVID-19 health crisis and ensuing confinement:

  • The Assembly Bureau is empowered to set exceptional deadlines to accelerate the examination of urgent bills related to managing the crisis.
  • Plenary parliamentary sessions will be held on time and with no need for a quorum.
  • The Assembly Bureau may decide to organize remote plenary sessions with electronic voting using a special application, provided the vote can be authenticated.
  • The Assembly Bureau is empowered to reduce the time for dialogue with the Government and statements during plenary.
  • The Assembly crisis cell oversees Government action when the Parliament is not sitting in plenary.
  • Meetings of the Assembly Bureau, heads of political blocs, and committees may be held remotely.

U

Ukraine

Virtual plenary and remote voting for MPs is under consideration for a limited period.

United Arab Emirates

The Federal National Council's Health and Environmental committee is currently discussing emergency public health measures for early detection of the coronavirus, evaluation and how to respond.

In terms of technology, parliamentary committees have moved to 100 per cent remote working.

United Kingdom

The UK Parliament is proceeding with face-to-face plenary sittings, albeit with a reduced number of members (the quorum in the House of Commons is 40). Most staff are being encouraged to work remotely.

An emergency coronavirus bill is being fast-tracked through all stages. The bill aims to increase the available health and social care workforce by, for example, removing barriers to allow recently retired health workers to return to work and easing the administrative burden on frontline staff.

The bill also contains drastic measures to contain and slow the spread of the virus by reducing unnecessary social contacts, for example through powers over events and gatherings, and strengthening the quarantine powers of police and immigration officers.

In parallel, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has also announced an inquiry into the human rights implications of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.