Emergency powers allowing police to hand out £1,000 fines to anyone refusing a coronavirus test and ministers to ban public mass gatherings have become law TODAY after being rushed through Parliament in just days
- Coronavirus Bill was passed by the House of Lords and got Royal Assent today
- It was fast-tracked through upper chamber in just two days this week
- Grants ministers, councils, police, health professionals wide-ranging powers
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Emergency coronavirus powers are set to come into law after being approved by Parliament today.
The Coronavirus Bill passed its final legislative hurdle this afternoon after it was approved by the House of Lords.
The changes include reducing the number of doctors required to sign off on sectioning those with mental health issues from two to one, while police would be given authority to force those infected with Covid-19 to self-isolate, with the threat of four-figure fines for refusing to be tested.
After just two days of debate in the upper chamber, the fast-tracked Coronavirus Bill was given an unopposed third reading by peers today. It then received Royal Assent from the Queen late this afternoon.
The unprecedented legislation – granting ministers, councils, police, health professionals and coroners wide-ranging powers that are due to last for up to two years – had already cleared the Commons in one sitting.
But they will be reviewed in every six months after the Government bowed to pressure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party on accountability grounds.
It came as MPs were told the public will be able to conduct ‘game-changer’ coronavirus antibody tests at home within a matter of days.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England (PHE), told the Science and Technology Committee that 3.5 million tests had been bought and would be available in the ‘near future’.
She said the tests would also allow key workers – like doctors and nurses – to go back to work if they have developed antibodies.
Under the emergency Coronavirus Bill ministers get tough new powers to block public gatherings to delay the spread of the pandemic across Britain.
The law will also hand local councils powers to deal with the bodies of victims -although allowances will be made for those with specific religious objections to cremation, such as the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Among the measures in the 329-page bill are:
- The police to detain people suspected of having coronavirus and send them for testing. People who fail to do so could be fined up to £1,000.
- Funeral directors acting on behalf of a family will be able to register a person’s death
- Powers for ministers to write to an operator of a UK port requiring their operation be suspended
- Powers for ministers to ‘prohibit or restrict events and gatherings, and to close premises, if the public health situation deems it necessary’
- Food suppliers would also have to provide information to the appropriate authority if all or part of a food supply chain is being disrupted or is at risk of disruption
- Enable coroners to conduct an inquest without a jury for anyone whose death was caused by Covid-19
- Rules relaxed to enable recently retired doctors and nurses to return to the NHS and help boost the health service’s capacity during the outbreak without suffering ‘any negative repercussions’ to their pension pots
- A state-backed insurance scheme will be rolled out to cover NHS staff to ensure they are able to care for patients if they are moved away from their normal day-to-day duties
One of the most controversial proposals is to relax requirements relating to cremation paperwork in a bid to speed up funerals.
Police and immigration officers will be given new powers to enable them to detain people if they are believed to be a risk to public health, for example, if they are sick and refuse to self-isolate.
The draft laws also put in place improved statutory sick pay arrangements for people who are self-isolating and allow small businesses to reclaim sick pay payments from the government – a measure announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the Budget earlier this month.
More phone and video hearings in courts will be introduced to combat the spread of the virus.
Border Force will be able to temporarily suspend operations at airports and transport hubs if there are not enough workers to maintain border security.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee today announced a fresh cut to interest rates from 0.25 per cent to just 0.1 per cent
The decision to cut rates – the second taken by the Bank of England in just over a week – comes in Andrew Bailey’s first week as governor after he took over from Mark Carney