Overview of the Bill
1 The purpose of the Coronavirus Bill is to enable the Government to respond to an emergency situation and manage the effects of a covid-19 pandemic. A severe pandemic could infect up to 80% of the population leading to a reduced workforce, increased pressure on health services and death management processes. The Bill contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts.
2 The Bill aims to support Government in the following:
● Increasing the available health and social care workforce
● Easing the burden on frontline staff
● Containing and slowing the virus
● Managing the deceased with respect and dignity
● Supporting people
3 The Bill is required as part of a concerted effort across the whole of the UK to tackle the covid-19 outbreak. The intention is that it will enable the right people from public bodies across the UK to take appropriate actions at the right times to manage the effects of the outbreak.
4 As part of its contingency planning, the Government has considered what measures would be needed during a severe covid-19 outbreak to reduce the pressure of key services and limit the spread of infection.
5 The action plan1 sets out options that can be taken as part of the response. This Bill ensures that the agencies and services involved – schools, hospitals, the police etc. – have the tools and powers they need. Each of the four nations of the UK has its own set of laws, and thus these tools and powers differ to varying degrees in each area. Consistency of outcome will be achieved by making the range of tools and powers consistent across the UK.
6 While vital, this Bill is just one part of the overall solution. It is therefore not necessary for each tool or power needed to address the covid-19 pandemic to be covered in this Bill. Some exist already in statute. Some exist in some parts of the UK but not others. This Bill aims to level up across the UK, so that the actions to tackle this threat can be carried out effectively across all four nations.
7 These are extraordinary measures that do not apply in normal circumstances. For this reason, the legislation will be time-limited for two years and it is neither necessary nor appropriate for all of these measures come into force immediately. Instead, many of the measures in this Bill can be commenced from area to area and time to time, so as to ensure that the need to protect the public’s health can be aligned with the need to safeguard individuals’ rights. These measures can subsequently be suspended and then later reactivated, if circumstances permit, over the lifetime of the Act.
8 The lifetime of the Act can itself be ended early, if the best available scientific evidence supports a policy decision that these powers are no longer needed. It is also possible to extend the lifetime of the Act for a further temporary period, again if it is prudent to do so.
9 This facility can be adjusted so that early termination (‘sunsetting’) can apply to some provisions; and further extension can be applied to others. The aim is to make sure that these powers can be used both effectively and proportionately.
10 These provisions also take due account of the UK’s devolution settlement in a way that enables swift action to be taken when and where it is needed. The commencement (and all associated decisions) will be activated to implement a COBR decision. UK Government Ministers will control the use of provisions on matters that are reserved or England only. This is intended to be a streamlined system that is nonetheless consonant with the role of the Devolved Administrations.
11 The Bill includes provisions which relate to a wide spectrum of areas across the UK as explained below. However, they are all focused on responding to circumstances that may arise as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.