Coronavirus Bill explained

If current advice is not adhered to, Westminster may impose stricter regulations on our movements. Source: Pxfuel
What is the Coronavirus Bill currently making its way through Parliament? What does it mean for schools, the NHS and public gatherings?

by Lowri Pitcher

With confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK totalling over 5,680 and over 345,000 worldwide as of Monday, March 23, the UK Government has recently introduced a Coronavirus Bill to Parliament in order to provide authorities with more powers to deal with the pandemic. 

Increase in NHS staff

One very important aspect of the Bill is the ability for the Registrars of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), to allow more staff to temporarily register “fit, proper and suitably experienced persons” to rejoin the NHS in order to increase the organisation’s capacity. 

In just over 48 hours since the Government’s call for recently-retired healthcare professionals to return to work, over 4,000 nurses and 500 doctors had signed up. A similar call has been made for fit, proper and suitably experienced persons to temporarily register as social workers. 

Statutory Sick Pay

In terms of salaries and wages, the Bill allows for the temporary suspensions of the “waiting days” known as the first three days of wages which are not paid to workers who claim to be ill. 

The Bill will also allow the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the recovery from HMRC of additional payments of Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) by certain employers for absences related to COVID-19.  Ordinarily, statutory sick pay is not payable for the first three days of sickness. 

Postponing elections

As had been previously announced by the Government on March 13, the Bill sets out the postponement of a number of elections scheduled to take place later this year will now be postponed until next year. Most of these are relevant to England only including the English council elections, local authority mayors (Bristol, Liverpool and Salford), combined authority mayors (Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, and West Midlands), the London Mayor and Greater London Assembly and Parish elections. Relevant to both Wales and England is the postponement of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, now due in May 2021. 

Food supply

The Bill states that the Government will also possess the power to request that any person who is in a food supply chain, or a person who is closely connected with a food supply chain, provide the Government with information should it be requested. This is a provision which will allow Downing Street to be as well informed as possible in regards to the logistics of the UK’s food supply; given that despite repeated reassurances that the UK does have enough food for everybody, the shelves in many of our main supermarkets have been emptied over recent weeks. Many supermarkets have now imposed rations on products in an attempt to curb the recently-seen levels of bulk-buying. 

Closing schools

Additionally, this Bill sets out the legislation which has allowed the temporary closure of educational institutions and childcare premises. The Bill enables the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to give directions for the restriction of attendance at premises used for the provision of education or childcare. Today, this has been seen across Wales with all children, except those of key workers with no other suitable childcare arrangements, being told to stay at home until told otherwise. It is expected that schools will remain closed until the new academic year in September, and all GCSE and A-Level exams due to take place this summer have been cancelled. 

Detaining those suspected of having COVID-19

Finally, in another attempt to reduce the rate of transmission of coronavirus, this Bill sets out the provisions for the Government to restrict or ban any events or gatherings; as well as the ability for the police to detain individuals suspected of having coronavirus and fine members of the public up to £1,000 for refusing to take a coronavirus test. Whether these powers will be exercised will depend on how diligently the UK population responds to Public Health advice. 

This includes self-isolating for seven days if you present symptoms of the virus and self-isolating for fourteen days if a member of your household presents with symptoms (which include a new and persistent cough or a fever, defined as a body temperature above 37.8’C). Those who are considered vulnerable, including over 70s and those with underlying health conditions, should self isolate for up to 12 weeks and all other members of our society should adhere to the social distancing guidelines which include no unnecessary travel. More information about the actions we should take can be found on the Government and NHS websites. 

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