Police officers to be given new emergency powers in UK-wide coronavirus bill
Police and immigration officers across the UK will be given powers to detain and isolate people to protect public health under emergency measures designed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The Emergency Coronavirus Bill, to be introduced at Westminster on Thursday, will set out various measures which the UK government and devolved administrations can deploy when needed.
The legislation will be time-limited for two years and the measures will not come into force immediately, but will be available for the four administrations across the UK to “switch on” and “switch off” based on the advice of chief medical officers.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the measures are strictly temporary, proportionate to the threat, will only be used when strictly necessary and will be in place for as long as required.
The measures, explained in full on the UK government website, include modifying death registration and management processes, allowing for statutory sick pay to be paid to people who are self-isolating from day one, allowing small businesses to reclaim statutory sick pay payments from HMRC, and enabling Border Force to suspend operations at airports or transport hubs if there are insufficient resources to maintain border security.
The bill will also allow recently retired NHS staff and social workers – and, in Scotland, people who are on a career break or studying social work – to return to work without any negative repercussions to their pensions.
NHS staff will also be covered by a state-backed insurance scheme to ensure they can care for patients if, for example, they are moving outside their day-to-day duties while making use of their skills and training.
Paperwork and administrative requirements will be reduced to help doctors discharge patients more quickly when clinically appropriate, to free up hospital space for those who are very ill and enable clinicians to focus on delivering care.
Volunteers will have extra employment safeguards, allowing them to pause their main jobs for up to four weeks while they help care for patients in the health and care system, and will receive a flat rate of compensation to mitigate lost earnings and expenses.
Councils will also see certain duties relaxed to enable them to prioritise people with the greatest care needs and make the best use of the adult social care workforce.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are doing everything we can to protect lives and support the NHS, guided by the best scientists and clinicians in the world.
“The new measures we will be introducing in the Emergency Coronavirus Bill this week will only be used when it is absolutely necessary and must be timed to maximise their effectiveness, but crucially they give the government the powers it needs to protect lives.
“By planning for the worst and working for the best we will get through this, but this is a national effort and we must all work together ‒ from businesses prioritising the welfare of their employees, to people thoroughly washing their hands.
“I also want to pay tribute to our brilliantly selfless NHS and social care staff who are working tirelessly to care for our friends and loved ones in this unprecedented period.”