Coronavirus: Emergency law could include powers to detain people suspected of being infected

Measures to be unveiled by health secretary Matt Hancock in statement to MPs before being rushed through parliament

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 16 March 2020 16:15
Public transport numbers fall as coronavirus cases rise

Emergency legislation to be unveiled on Tuesday is expected to include measures to allow the temporary detention of people suspected of being infected with coronavirus.

Health secretary Matt Hancock is to provide details of the emergency plans in a written statement to parliament, ahead of the introduction of the bill in the House of Commons on Thursday.

No official confirmation was being provided of the measures envisaged to bolster the authorities’ response to the outbreak.

But it is understood that they will include powers for police and immigration officers to detain individuals “for a limited period” if there are concerns they may be infected.

The government is expected to take on powers to halt any vehicle, vessel or aircraft and to close ports if it proves impossible to maintain border security because of sickness among customs and immigration officers.

Measures could be introduced to streamline and speed up the process of cremation and burial of bodies, according to reports.

Doctors may be enabled to provide medical certificates detailing the cause of death without having seen the deceased person and senior health professionals other than doctors will be given powers to sign off death certificates. Requirements for coroners to hold jury inquests are expected to be lifted.

Registration requirements for doctors, social workers and pharmacists look set to be relaxed to allow recent retirees to return to the health service and enable care workers who have almost finished their qualifications to register.

The terms of the Mental Health Act are expected to be relaxed to require fewer doctors in clinics, so they can be redeployed to hospitals.

And local authorities may be allowed to offer reduced levels of care and support with washing and cooking to elderly people without facing legal challenge, so long as it does not lead to serious neglect or harm.

Ministers aim to rush the legislation through both houses of parliament by the end of the month.

It is expected that the entire package will be subject to a “sunset clause” limiting its application to two years, by which time it is hoped that the emergency conditions will have passed and the provisions of the legislation will no longer be needed.

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