Calls for government to be transparent over emergency powers to tackle Coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 13:26 03 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:29 03 March 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Frank Augstein/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Frank Augstein/PA Wire.

The government has been urged to be ‘transparent’ about its new emergency powers to tackle the coronavirus.

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Thegovernment intends to rush legislation through later this month which will give more flexibility to schools to help them stay open, give Border Force officers extra powers and make it easier for retired medical staff to return to duty.

Medical experts believe that restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19 may need to be in place for around 12 weeks at the peak of the outbreak, with "social distancing" strategies including school closures, encouraging greater home working and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings.

The new measures could allow children and teachers to swap to different schools to help maintain pupils' education and class sizes could be allowed to swell.

In medicine, recently retired doctors could be allowed to return into service by giving them the legal cover to practice.


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At the border, officials could get greater powers to act if they spot people with the virus.

Ministers want the legislation on the statute books in order that measures can be introduced when they are required.

While the Lib Dems have welcomed more action from the government, they have called on the government to remain "open and transparent" about what it proposes.

Munira Wilson MP, the Lib Dem health, wellbeing and social care spokesperson, said: "At last, Johnson's government is laying out plans to tackle the spread of Coronavirus. It is vital that the Government remains open and transparent about the steps it is taking, and provides clear advice to people across the country.

"People are enormously concerned about the spread of this virus. It is vital that the government confirms that anyone forced to self-isolate will not be left without pay, potentially being pushed into hardship as a result of factors beyond their control.

"Any new emergency laws to tackle the virus must be proportionate and time-limited, with a cast-iron sunset clause to ensure that ministers are not given sweeping permanent powers."

The prime minister, however, insisted it will be "short term".

He said: "It is necessary to have some legislation in respect of things like school operations, borders, quarantine but these are exceptional and short term.

"They are not intended to last beyond the outbreak."

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