Emergency powers allow fines and detention
The police and public health and immigration officers will be able to detain people suspected of having Covid-19 and exact £1,000 fines for refusing tests, under emergency powers rolled out by the UK government yesterday.
The guidance in the coronavirus bill allows health officers to order anyone believed to be infected to disclose their travel history, have screening and tests within 14 days,and provide biological samples. Those officers will also have the power to force potentially infected people to isolate themselves. And people could be held prior to consultation with public health officers.
The measures are enforceable only amid “risk of serious and imminent threat to public health”. This will include anyone who absconds while being moved to be tested, provides false information or obstructs the implementation of restrictions. The bill states: “The policy aim … is to ensure proportionate measures can be enforced if and when necessary.”
The bill requires the health secretary to prepare a report on it every two months, with a motion put before parliament after every sixth report.
The government also has stronger powers to intervene if it suspects people are disrupting food distribution. Industry insiders said new clauses would give ministers the power to demand information at short notice if they suspected black market activity.
Funeral directors will be able to register deaths and cause-of-death certificates to registrars electronically and will also “remove need for second confirmatory medical certificate in order for cremation to take place”.
Before the emergency powers were proposed by the government yesterday, a cross-party group of MPs and peers warned that its measures must not breach human rights provisions.
The intervention by parliament’s joint committee on human rights came after Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Boris Johnson asking that the powers in the coronavirus bill, which will last for two years, be reviewed every six months.
The legislation is expected to complete all stages of the Commons on Monday, then pass through the Lords next Wednesday and Thursday.
MPs are lobbying hard to try to ensure safeguards. The human rights committee has published a report on potential civil liberties issues, and stressed that all measures should comply with the UK’s obligations under the UN and European conventions on human rights. Harriet Harman, the Labour MP who chairs the human rights committee, said: “It is vitally important that checks and balances are in place to ensure that human rights are not disregarded.”