The changes contained in the coronavirus bill last for two years and will be used only when necessary, according to the government. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are doing everything we can to protect lives and support the NHS, guided by the best scientists and clinicians in the world.
“The new measures we will be introducing in the emergency coronavirus bill this week will only be used when it is absolutely necessary and must be timed to maximise their effectiveness, but crucially they give the government the powers it needs to protect lives.
“By planning for the worst and working for the best we will get through this, but this is a national effort and we must all work together – from businesses prioritising the welfare of their employees, to people thoroughly washing their hands.”
The government said the plans will protect life, ensure people who die are treated in a dignified way and support the public to “do the right thing”.
Registering deaths will be easier and crematoriums will be able to extend their operating hours.
Councils will be able to prioritise people with the greatest needs to cope with the demands on social care.
It could mean some assessments are delayed and the requirements of some of those already in the system are not met as local authorities “may not be able to do all the things they are usually required”.
Doctors will be able to discharge patients more quickly to free up hospital space for the most ill.
The new laws also include a raft of measures to make it easier to draft in extra NHS staff and social workers.
Volunteers will be compensated if they temporarily step away from their day jobs to help out in the health service and returning retired workers will have their pensions protected.
NHS staff will also be covered by a state-backed insurance scheme if they are drafted into new roles away from their normal duties.
Police and immigration officers are being powers to detain suspected coronavirus sufferers and force them into isolation.
More court cases will be carried out by phone or video hearings and the Border Force could suspend operations at ports if staff shortages threaten national security.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said: “Our approach to responding to this outbreak has and will remain driven by the scientific and clinical evidence so we do the right thing at the right time.
“The measures included in this bill will help support our frontline workers, protect the public and delay the peak of the virus to the summer months when the NHS is typically under less pressure.
“It is important everyone continues to play their part by avoiding non-essential contact and travel as well as washing their hands regularly for 20 seconds with soap and water.”
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