Closed petition Repeal the Coronavirus Act 2020
The Coronavirus Act grants potentially dangerous powers including to detain some persons indefinitely, to take biological samples, and to give directions about dead bodies. Powers last up to 2 years with 6 monthly reviews, and lockdown powers could prevent protests against measures.
The Act also lowers protections under the Mental Health Act. Only one medical 'officer' is required to sign off a compulsory treatment order. There are changes to the court system and registration of deaths, and inquests have been suspended in some circumstances. There is no requirement for any medical certification for cremations. It also provides for the indemnity of health service activity for those providing care to a person who has, or is suspected of having, coronavirus disease.
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This response was given on 20 October 2020
With the Coronavirus pandemic still at large, the Coronavirus Act, and the measures within it, remain as important as ever.
Read the response in full
The current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which began in December 19, presents a significant, unprecedented challenge for the entire world. All of the UK has been touched by the pandemic and the use of the provisions of the Coronavirus Act should be seen in the context of the extensive and ongoing impact across the whole of society.
The development of an effective response to the pandemic required several actions. Some of these involved the use of new tools and powers that required new legislation. The UK government’s coronavirus action plan, published on 3 March, set out measures to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic that are reasonable, proportionate and were based on the latest scientific evidence. The plan envisaged that changes to legislation might be necessary in order to give public bodies across the UK the tools and powers they need to carry out an effective response to this emergency. On 25 March, the Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent. The Coronavirus Act gives us the powers we need to take the right action at the right time to respond effectively to the impact of the pandemic and should be seen as part of a wide range of public health measures designed to tackle the pandemic during its life cycle.
A balance has had to be struck between protecting the public’s health, and safeguarding individuals’ rights; and between acting swiftly to respond to fast moving events, whilst ensuring accountability and transparency. A two-year life span for this Act has been chosen to ensure that its powers remain available for a reasonable length of time, with the option for the provisions in the Act to be extended by the relevant national authority. These provisions are subject to a six-monthly review and renewal vote in the House of Commons. The first of these was held on 30 September 2020, following a debate in the House of Lords on 28 September, in which Parliament decided that the Act should continue. They are also subject to a two-monthly report to Parliament and an annual debate. Many of the provisions can be suspended if the scientific advice is that they are not needed, and revived again if it says that they are. This is a flexible and proportionate response to a major crisis.
The Act enabled action in 5 key areas:
1. increasing the available health and social care workforce – for example, by removing barriers to allow suitably experienced people, such as recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work (and in Scotland, in addition to retired people, allowing those who are on a career break or who are social worker students to become temporary social workers)
2. easing and reacting to the burden on frontline staff – by reducing the number of administrative tasks they have to perform, enabling local authorities to prioritise care for people with the most pressing needs, allowing key workers to perform more tasks remotely and with less paperwork, and introducing a power to suspend individual port operations if necessary for the security of the border
3. containing and slowing the virus – provisions have been introduced to allow the courts and tribunals system to continue to function throughout the pandemic and ensure that more people are able to access justice.
4. managing the deceased with respect and dignity – by enabling the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services
5. supporting people – for example, by allowing individuals to receive Statutory Sick Pay from day one, and supporting businesses, for example by providing powers that will ensure the governments of the UK are able to support the food industry to maintain supplies
The governments of the UK therefore resolved to review and where necessary amend existing legislation, to ensure that the UK’s response is consistent and effective.
The worst-case scenario has not yet come to pass, but considerable risks remain, and significant challenges still lie ahead of us. The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in one of the largest ever shocks to the UK economy and public finances. The impact of the virus and the measures that have had to be put in place have been far reaching, affecting people’s jobs, livelihoods and wellbeing. Despite the success in reducing the burden of the virus significantly from its peak in the spring, the coming winter will present further challenges. Coinfections between seasonal coronaviruses and other respiratory viruses are common. While interactions between COVID-19 and other viruses are not fully understood, they have the potential to be negative and are likely to be more common in winter. There are also secondary risks. The pressure on the NHS and other health infrastructure is already higher in winder due to other seasonal illnesses, such as flu. As the world’s scientific understanding is still developing, it is too early to say that we know for certain precisely how the pandemic will respond to our efforts to control it in the medium to long term.
Department for Health and Social Care