The government’s language over coronavirus has been replete with military references, such as the “national fightback”, the “struggle” and “war-time” government.
Late last night the government published a bill that could turn those words into reality.
In an unprecedented transfer of powers to the state – one only imaginable in times of war – police will be given sweeping powers including detaining people and isolating them for public health purposes.
The government has stressed it wants to rely on the good faith of the British people to follow the advice given to them on Monday, which is to avoid gatherings of people at pubs, clubs, theatres and bars and avoid all unnecessary travel.
But as a safety net, the government will be able to take matters into its own hands if people refuse to act on its advice.
“Public support and compliance is crucial and we are grateful for the flexibility people have shown, but we need to ensure police and immigration officers have the authority to enforce these measures where necessary,” the advice read.
The measures will cover the next two years but can be “switched on” and off at the government’s discretion.
Among the most eye-catching are giving powers to the home secretary, Priti Patel, to demand that ports and airports shut temporarily if Border Force staff shortages arising from coronavirus mean there is a threat to national security.
Local councils, which are already facing funding challenges, will be able to prioritise their services for those most in need, “even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments”.
Recently-retired NHS and adult social staff will also be able to return to the service to help relieve the burden on hospitals without fear of losing their pension rights, while volunteers will be provided with employment safeguards such as compensation for loss of earnings if they choose to “perform a public good”.
Statutory sick pay will be made payable from day one instead of day four, while courts will be able to hold hearings via video link.
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The bill, which will be introduced in parliament on Thursday, contains some grim reading.
It reflects the gravity of the situation countries across the world find themselves and the fact that we need to become accustomed to a new normal.
Life is changing so the law is changing.
-- to www.bristolpost.co.uk