Corona: An enjoyable beer or new legislation…

Coronavirus came upon the world as an unknown and everyone is now trying to ‘fight’ their way through what is COVID-19 and a severe pandemic.  Unlike Corona beer which is rather enjoyable especially on a warm sunny day, the coronavirus is anything but a chilled afternoon sitting in the sun supping on your favourite beverage. It could infect up to 80% of the population leading to a reduced workforce, increased pressure on health services and death management processes. As a result, the UK government sought to invoke emergency legislation to enable it to respond to an emergency and manage the effects of COVID-19.

To explain the context a little we have laid out this brief guide. It is not intended to be in-depth but more to provide an overview.

Unlike any other legislation in recent times, the legislation gives the government wide-ranging powers. The measures introduced are temporary, proportionate to the threat, will only be used “when strictly necessary”. They will remain in place only for as long as required to respond to the crisis. The legislation will be reviewed every six months to ensure its continuation is necessary or as it was put by politicians… to ensure parliament is “content with its continuation”.

The legislation includes:

  • Multiple sections aimed at reducing the pressure on frontline sectors. From health workers, police officers and even the legal profession.
  • Measures to restrict events and shut down premises such as pubs and clubs.
  • Powers to close the borders in the event that the Border Force is under intense pressure due to staffing shortages.

The legislation allows the four UK governments to switch on these new powers when they are needed and, crucially, to switch them off again once they are no longer necessary. This decision will be based on the advice of the four Chief Medical Officers.

Coronavirus Act 2020

It took just 6 days from when the Coronavirus bill was introduced to receiving Royal Assent. As we all know the act is in now in force.  The measures in the act are intended to protect life and the nation’s public health and ensure NHS and social care staff are supported to deal with significant extra pressure on the health system.

They fall into five key categories:

  • Containing and slowing the virus;
  • Easing legislative and regulatory requirements;
  • Enhancing capacity and the flexible deployment of staff across essential services;
  • Managing the deceased in a dignified way; and
  • Supporting and protecting the public to do the right thing and follow public health advice.

To ensure the NHS and adult social care have the additional staff capacity they need to respond to increasing demands on services during the outbreak, the powers enabled recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work without any negative repercussions to their pensions.

Paperwork and administrative requirements will be reduced to help doctors discharge patients more quickly when clinically appropriate. This is to free up hospital space for those who are very ill and enable clinicians to focus on delivering care.

We don’t intend to expand on the NHS issues beyond what has been said.

Other measures in the legislation include:

  • Allowing police and immigration officers to support and enforce public health measures, including powers to detain people and put them in appropriate isolation facilities if necessary to protect public health;
  • Making arrangements for statutory sick pay for those self-isolating without symptoms from day one;
  • Allowing small businesses to reclaim statutory sick pay payments from HMRC;
  • Allowing more phone or video hearings for court cases to stop the spread of the virus in courts; and
  • Enabling Border Force to temporarily suspend operations at airports or transport hubs if there are insufficient resources to maintain border security.

The bill allows the four UK governments to switch on these new powers when they are needed and, crucially, to switch them off again once they are no longer necessary, based on the advice of the four Chief Medical Officers.

The bill builds on the Treasury’s recent investment of £12 billion to support public services, people and businesses through the disruption caused by COVID-19 in the 2020 Budget. It follows considerable action from the government to control the epidemic, including a nationwide public health campaign and a cross-government ‘war room’ of communications experts and scientists.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act received royal assent on 6 April 2020, it’s purpose is to enable the government to respond to an emergency situation and manage the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts.

The measures set out are deemed essential to respond to this current emergency and cover a range of measures intended to ensure that:

  • Renters are protected while confined to their homes;
  • The justice system can deliver essential services; and
  • Public services, business and consumers can still operate despite new restrictions.

Now don’t get us wrong we could have made this blog a lot more detailed however it would have run to pages and no-one not even our ‘nerdy’ boss wants that! So please do beware that there are many other things that the legislation does that we have not covered, such as financial, budget matters and working time regulations, etc.

In the next few blogs we will look at specific topics arising out of this COVID-19 pandemic including returning to work, what your organisation needs to do and COVID-19 prosecutions.

In the meantime, stay well, stay safe and #getlawsavvy


Article was correct at time of writing, May 2020

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