Updated: 25th March 2020
The Coronavirus Bill has completed its process through the House of Lords and will now go on to receive Royal Assent.
Aims of the Bill
The purpose of the Bill is to provide powers needed to respond to the current coronavirus epidemic. Powers are for use only if needed, judged on the basis of the clinical and scientific advice. Safeguards have been built in to ensure that powers are only used as necessary, for example during the peak of a coronavirus outbreak. The aim is to balance the need for speed, as appropriate to the risk posed by the virus, with safeguards to ensure proper oversight and accountability.
Enhanced Capacity & Flexible Deployment of Staff
The power provided in this clause will allow Registrars the ability to carry out emergency registration of healthcare professionals. This will allow for the registration of any professional regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council or the Health and Care Professions Council. It is hoped that this will help to ease the pressure on services to enable to delivery of essential healthcare services in this emergency period.
Easing of Legislative & Regulatory Requirements
This provision allows NHS providers to delay undertaking the assessment process for NHS continuing health care (NHS CHC) until after the coronavirus outbreak has ended.
Containing / Slowing the Virus
Powers to direct suspension of port operations
Protecting the border is a fundamental duty of government. In the event that Border Force resources are depleted due to Covid-19 to such an extent that that there is a real and significant risk that there are or will be insufficient border force officers to maintain adequate border security, a power is needed to ensure that we can direct arrivals to ports of arrival in the UK where there will be sufficient Border Force officers to carry out the necessary border security checks.
The proposed powers will allow the Secretary of State to direct a port operator (i.e. a person concerned in the management of a port) to suspend relevant operations, partially or wholly, in the event that there is a real and significant risk there are or will be insufficient resources to maintain adequate border security. The power will also provide for the Secretary of State to issue a direction in writing to any other person requiring the person to make such arrangements, or take such steps, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of the primary direction.
The power is only available when the Secretary of State has exhausted all relevant alternative mitigations. Use of the power would be governed by strict safeguards to ensure that the it is used fairly, responsibly and proportionately and with the appropriate level of authority. While responsibility for an initial direction may be made by senior Border Force officials on behalf of the Secretary of State, our expectation is that any decision to extend the period beyond 12 hours would be taken at Ministerial level and subject to engagement with relevant government departments and devolved administrations.
Failure to comply with a port direction or supplementary direction would constitute a criminal offence, subject to excuses for reasonable cause. The Bill will be in force for a limited time and is aimed at the threat from Coronavirus and we anticipate ports will comply; directions are only anticipated to be used on rare occasions.
Powers relating to potentially infectious persons: constables and immigration officers
The policy aim is to give constables and immigration officers the necessary powers to support the wider public health efforts to manage the spread of coronavirus.
The proposals will provide the police with the means to enforce sensible public health restrictions, and where necessary, directing individuals to seek relevant treatment or attend suitable locations for further help. These measures look to fill existing gaps in powers which prevent the screening of people who may be infected or contaminated with the virus and which prevent the police from enforcing such measures where necessary.
The proposals will also ensure that immigration officers and constables can support the wider public health effort where they encounter a person who is, or may be, infectious during the course of their normal functions at the border or while exercising immigration enforcement functions in country. The proposed powers will allow an immigration officer to direct or remove such a person to a suitable place for the purpose of screening and assessment or to keep that person there or at another suitable place for a time-limited period to be handed over to a relevant health official for the same purpose. Obstructing an immigration officer or a constable in the exercise of a power under the Schedule would constitute a criminal offence, but we expect the vast majority to comply without compulsion.
Power to temporarily close educational institutions and registered childcare providers
These powers would be needed to stop the spread of the disease and ensure welfare and safety of those working and studying in schools and other educational institutions, including childcare providers, by temporarily closing institutions as required.
This would involve schools, including independent schools, Further and Higher Education institutions as well as registered childcare providers (including childminders) closing temporarily to prevent the spread of the virus. Closing such institutions and providers will reduce the risk of the virus spreading amongst children and students where it is likely that due to the numbers and close proximity in such places, the virus may spread rapidly.
This power gives the Secretary of State and the Welsh Ministers the ability to direct institutions to take steps to stop people attending for a temporary period of time specified in the direction.
Powers relating to events, gatherings, and premises
Should the medical and scientific situation dictate such a response, Government wants to ensure it has the necessary powers to enable Ministers to restrict or prohibit gatherings or events and to close premises during the coronavirus outbreak period. This would form part of a wider Government response aimed at containing and controlling the virus or facilitating the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources.
Government also wishes to ensure that across the UK, the necessary enforcement regime is in place to ensure compliance and that there are also sufficient powers across the UK that enable an option to provide appropriate compensation.
The clause will ensure that there is the same provision across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The clause would create direction making powers which would provide Ministers with an efficient and deployable response, appropriate to the emergency and public health context in which the power would sit.