Britain’s isn’t the only government that has been slow to adapt to this new reality. In the United States, millions of federal workers are continuing to report to the office even as public-health officials have advised the rest of the country to do the opposite. (Although the Trump administration issued new guidance on Sunday asking government agencies to offer “maximum telework flexibilities,” it doesn’t necessarily apply to all federal workers.) India’s lawmakers, who have been exempted from social-distancing restrictions, continue to gather in Parliament. In Italy, which imposed a nationwide lockdown to cope with the outbreak, lawmakers are still meeting in person, albeit only one day a week. Those in attendance must keep at least three feet away from one another.
These changes really only scratch the surface of the types of distance-friendly measures governments and legislatures could be adopting to further facilitate social distancing. Take voting, for example. In Britain, where lawmakers must physically walk through crowded lobbies to vote on legislation, Parliament could instead adopt ballot or electronic voting. “We already have a procedure, which is called ‘deferred division,’ where [members of Parliament] vote on paper,” Hannah White, the deputy director of the London-based Institute for Government think tank, told me. The easiest solution would be to simply “extend that to all votes.”
When it comes to limiting in-person meetings, another option for governments and legislatures is to simply move them online.