Emergency powers to tackle coronavirus crisis become law

Harriet Brewis
AFP via Getty Images

Sweeping emergency powers to help combat the coronavirus pandemic have become law.

The Coronavirus Bill cleared the Lords without amendment and was granted Royal Assent.

It was rushed through both houses of parliament in just three days as growing numbers of people became infected with the virus.

The bill gives the government wide-ranging powers, the likes of which have never been seen before in peacetime.

Measures outlined in the 348-page document include allowing police to force people with Covid-19 symptoms to self-isolate and enabling workers to claim sick pay more quickly.

The unprecedented legislation cleared the Commons in one sitting on Monday, after Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the illness.

It completed all necessary stages after Number 10 offered the concession that it would be reviewed every six months.

Health Minister Lord Bethell expressed his “profound thanks” to those involved with the Bill and ensuring its swift passage through Parliament, including other political parties, who he said had “worked in a collaborative and supportive way during this whole process”.

“I would like to thank those who work in Parliament and House of Lords who are here today at considerable risk to themselves and have displayed amazing commitment to this remarkable organisation,” he said.

Opposition frontbencher Baroness Thornton agreed that it had been a “perfect exercise in consultation and work across the House."

The Coronavirus Bill facilitates an increase in the available health and social care workforce and an easing of the burden on frontline staff, to help slow the spread of the virus.

It also sets out powers for police to detain people suspected of having coronavirus and send them to be tested. People who fail to do so could be fined up to £1,000.

The new law will also allow employers to reclaim statutory sick pay funds from HMRC to help with the burden of increased staff absence due to the outbreak of the disease.

Addressing the house on Tuesday, Lord Bethell said: “Fundamentally this Bill is about buying time. Time can help us. With each day that passes, the science is getting better.

“Each day brings us closer to faster, more accurate testing capabilities and ultimately a vaccine.

"Each day that we can slow the rate of transmission is a small victory that will lead us to the ultimate defeat of the virus.

“We need to buy time for the NHS, flattening the infection curve and raising the capacity line, moving the peak away from the most dangerous winter months.”

For the Opposition, Lord Falconer of Thoroton offered Labour’s full support for the emergency powers.

“In normal times it would be utterly unacceptable,” he said. “These are not normal times.

“As long as the emergency lasts and these powers are necessary, they should be available to the Government.”

Lord Falconer said there needed to be “immediate compliance by the public with the ‘stay at home’ message” imposed by the Government.

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Emergency coronavirus legislation clears House of Commons