COVID-19: UK Proposes Emergency Powers

Our Politics Editor Caitlin brings you the latest on the UK’s proposed long-term measures to contain the virus…

People globally criticised the UK last week for its ‘relaxed’ approach to the COVID-19 outbreak – schools remaining open, no forced closures of businesses or cancellation of large events. 

Perhaps in response to this, the government on Friday unveiled a proposed swathe of emergency powers aimed at helping to contain the outbreak. They would be in place for two years – the first of MANY red flags present here. 

The main power proposed would be to allow the police and immigration officials (yikes!) to detain anyone they saw fit if they suspected them to have the virus. Anyone. Detained. 

The bill will also broadly allow ministers to shut ports and border controls if they decide there aren’t enough resources to staff them with. Trains, vessels and aircraft can be halted. Schools are prevented from closing outright unless the government allows it – preventing teachers from striking, and preventing educators from making the best choice for the children they see every day. 

Local authorities will be relieved of their statutory duty to meet ‘assessed needs’ of the elderly, so there’s that. A number of measures required when a person dies will be removed to speed up funerals, including removing the need for jury inquests and allowing health professionals other than doctors to sign off on deaths, a power that is certainly impossible to abuse. 

The detainment aspect of this is of course the most troubling – there is never going to be a satisfactory answer to “what’s a reasonable ground to suspect someone actually has coronavirus” without violating rights to liberty and privacy. Nobody is being tested, so I guess you’ll be arrested for coughing in public. I reiterate: unacceptable. The fact that immigration officials are also being handed this power is doubly gross and will undoubtedly lead to an increasingly hostile environment for migrants. Seniors in care homes will be receiving a much lower standard of care, in an era where standards for care are already through the floor due to an overburdened system. 

And this is all proposed to last two years!

To me, the solution to this terrible idea is to close businesses and schools, encourage social distancing and good handwashing, and to give citizens the safety net they need to stop working without going bankrupt, for all our sakes. If you’re like me and currently self-isolating – I’ve been inside for 36 hours now and am only mildly inclined to climb the walls – then you’ll realise that containment is straightforward, if taxing to mental health. Everyone will need to sacrifice work, profit and most of all pleasure in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, but they should NOT be called upon to sacrifice their rights in the way these powers would require.

Caitlin Flavell, Political Editor