The UK government’s coronavirus action plan, published on 3 March, set out measures to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak that are reasonable, proportionate and based on the latest scientific evidence. The plan also includes information on the government’s 4-stage strategy: contain, delay, research, mitigate. It sets out advice for how the public should respond in each stage, including what to expect as the outbreak advances.
It also 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. This paper sets out, subject to final approvals, the elements of the bill and the reasons why they are needed.
The bill enables action in 5 key areas:
- increasing the available health and social care workforce – for example, by removing barriers to allow 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 are social worker students to become temporary social workers)
- easing 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 taking the power to suspend individual port operations
- containing and slowing the virus – by reducing unnecessary social contacts, for example through powers over events and gatherings, and strengthening the quarantine powers of police and immigration officers
- managing the deceased with respect and dignity – by enabling the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services
- supporting people – by allowing them to claim Statutory Sick Pay from day one, and by supporting the food industry to maintain supplies
The proposals set out in the bill will significantly enhance the ability of public bodies across the UK to provide an effective response to tackle this epidemic. The Government are therefore aiming for it to reach the statute book and begin to take effect from the end of this month. However, the provisions relating to Statutory Sick Pay are intended to have retrospective effect to 13 March.