Coronavirus: Police able to detain infected people under new emergency laws brought to parliament

Retired NHS and social care staff also able to return to work temporarily under Emergency Coronavirus Bill

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 17 March 2020 20:34 GMT
Coronavirus: Chancellor announces £330 billion in government-backed loans to help businesses

Emergency legislation allowing police and immigration officials to temporarily detain people infected with coronavirus have been published by the government.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, unveiled sweeping powers to bolster the UK's response to the outbreak, including powers for police and immigration officials to arrest and detain those who may cause a risk to public health.

The Emergency Coronavirus Bill, which will be brought to the Commons on Wednesday, also allows the home secretary to shut transport hubs in the event of border staff shortages and grants ministers powers to ban mass gatherings and close schools.

Phone or video hearings will be used more frequently in the courts to allow people to self isolate and to limit the hit of the outbreak on proceedings.

To ease pressure on the health service, retired NHS and social care staff will be able to return to work temporarily, and a new compensation fund will be created for volunteers to take paid emergency leave from their jobs to assist in hospitals and other facilities.

Mr Hancock said: “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."

Efforts to help the NHS cope with the crisis include removals of barriers for retired staff to return to work and allowances for students at the end of their training to register as regulated health professionals.

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.

Councils will be allowed to offer stripped back services, prioritising patients with the most pressing needs, and paperwork will be reduced to allow frontline staff to focus on delivering care.

The bill allows workers to claim statutory sick pay from the first day, rather than the fourth day of sickness, and allows small businesses to reclaim the cost of paying sick pay to their staff.

The package has a two-year "sunset clause" - in the hope that the emergency will have ended - and the measures can be switched on and off, depending on the advice of medical experts.

Ministers are planning to rush the legislation through the Commons and the Lords by the end of the month.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: "Officers will use these measures only when necessary and proportionate to do so.

"We will be working in close cooperation with public health officials and will use our powers to detain based on their advice or express request for support.”

It comes as Rishi Sunak announced £330bn of government-backed loans as part of an "unprecedented package" of measures to help businesses through the crisis.

The chancellor vowed to do "whatever it takes" to help the economy, as he warned that "never in peacetime have we faced an economic fight like this one".

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