The ACT Health Minister says there is a "quite significant" COVID-19 risk surrounding the return of Federal Parliament in two weeks' time, particularly regarding the attendance of Sydney-based MPs and their staff, and has warned the situation is "changing constantly".
After arriving from the hotspot zone of Greater Sydney on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is working at Parliament House under an ACT Health "essential worker" exemption signed off on by the Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly.
Discussions are under way between Parliament's presiding officers, ACT Health officials and party leaders about the coming parliamentary sitting period and how to make it work. When Parliament is sitting, thousands of people usually come to Canberra from across the country. At the end of the sitting period, the thousands disperse back into their communities.
"We are very, very clear the risk from Greater Sydney is quite significant," ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said on Tuesday.
"This obviously is also an environment where the whole country is potentially affected. If there is a spread of COVID-19 within Parliament House, that can potentially be taken back to any jurisdiction around the country."
It is understood there are no current plans to delay Parliament's sitting, with MPs scheduled to come back from the long winter break on August 3. All MPs in COVID-19 hotspots who wish to attend in person should be in home quarantine in the ACT by now.
The Labor member for the western Sydney seat of Macquarie, Susan Templeman, is in Canberra quarantine.
"It's a really tough thing as an MP," she told The Canberra Times. "Part of you just wants to be back in your electorate, experiencing what people in your electorate are experiencing.
"But the other part is, I got voted in five years ago to be a voice in Canberra for people, not to sit at home and be absent from Parliament."
The Canberra Times understands all conversations centre on how Parliament will best operate with the Delta variant risk.
It is expected there will many MPs attending Parliament remotely via video link. Labor's Ed Husic, the member for Chifley in south-west Sydney, and the Liberal member for the Sydney seat of Reid, Fiona Martin, will be among them.
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Under the strict rules of his exemption, Scott Morrison can travel between his Canberra residence (The Lodge), his Parliament House office and cabinet rooms as he prepares for the upcoming parliamentary sitting period. He will be allowed to hold press conferences.
"He is under an essential worker exemption," Stephen-Smith said. "And so he is not under a strict quarantine arrangement. He is allowed to go to work."
"I hope he's wearing a mask."
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said he will be required to undertake daily COVID-19 tests and wear a mask.
The ACT Health Minister said the arrangements for the Prime Minister are in line with the protocols used over the past 15 months.
While Melbourne was in lockdown last July, federal Treasurer and Victorian MP Josh Frydenberg and two of his senior staffers were allowed to work in Parliament House under "essential worker" exemptions.
"That is managed very, very closely. And that's also managed in line with a protocol that is considered by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer," the ACT Health Minister said.
"So the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer then signs off on a protocol around how people manage their particular situation when they get those exemptions."
There has been no decision yet on whether Parliament will be open to the public.
"The situation is changing constantly," Stephen-Smith said.
"I think as this situation develops, and more and more jurisdictions are affected, those requirements will change."
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