A new “Emergency Coronavirus Bill” making its way through Parliament will give sweeping powers to police and other officials in the battle against coronavirus.
The planned reforms grant police a much wider remit to surveil, arrest, and detain members of the public, and allow the government to shut down any premises, event or gathering anywhere in the country.
Critics of the government have labeled the proposals a threat to civil liberties, and raised concerns that MPs have been given only one day to scrutinise them.
But Ministers say the bill, which has been tabled in the House of Commons today (19 March), gives them the powers they need to protect public health.
‘Help support frontline workers’
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said the sweeping powers the bill provides will “only be used when it is absolutely necessary”.
Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, added: "The measures included in this Bill will help support our frontline workers, protect the public and delay the peak of the virus to the summer months when the NHS is typically under less pressure."
The “Emergency Coronavirus Bill”, which is likely to pass in the House of Commons, will also allow health officials to call former medical professionals out of retirement to help cope with the rising pressure on hospitals.
The government’s changing strategy
The proposed legislation comes amid a major change of direction in the government’s attempts to manage the UK’s coronavirus outbreak.
Downing Street’s previous strategy, which emphasised minimising disruption to the economy, had to be abandoned after modelling by Imperial College London predicted hundreds of thousands of deaths from the spread of Covid-19.
In response, the Prime Minister announced new social distancing measures, including asking anyone who is able to work from home to do so.
On Wednesday, Mr Johnson bowed to increasing pressure to close schools, but told the public that the children of key workers should still attend classes.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, unveiled the Treasury’s £350 billion fiscal stimulus package, that included hundreds of billions of pounds of low interest loans for businesses whose incomes had been slashed by coronavirus.