Emergency powers which include giving police and immigration officers the right to detain and quarantine people who may be infected with coronavirus will be introduced by the government this week.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the draconian measures will “only be used when it is absolutely necessary” and will only remain in place for as long as they are needed to protect life and the nation’s public health, and to provide support for the NHS and social care.
The detention powers will “enable the police and immigration officers to detain a person, for a limited period, who is, or may be, infectious and to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment”.
The coronavirus bill also includes measures to allow local authorities to direct individuals to help with funerals and death management, businesses to provide vehicles to move bodies, and crematoriums to open for longer to help manage the increased number of deceased people with “respect and dignity”.
The death management powers of direction would only be used “in the most extreme situations where there is a risk to public health”.
The bill will allow people to be detained and treated under mental health laws if just one doctor deems them to need urgent treatment or that they are a risk to themselves or others, rather than two.
And it will extend and remove the time limits in mental health laws to provide flexibility if staff numbers are “severely adversely affected”.
In social care, councils will be allowed to prioritise the most serious and urgent cases even if it means not meeting everyone’s needs in full or delaying care assessments.
But local authorities will still be expected to do “as much as they can” to comply with care duties, and the laws would not remove their requirements to ensure there is no serious neglect or harm.
In education, there are powers to make schools or childcare providers to stay open and run effectively. This could include reducing teacher ratios, watering down school meal standards and relaxing provisions for special needs.
Home secretary Priti Patel will be enabled to order ports and airports to temporarily close if Border Force staff shortages pose a threat to border security.
To increase capacity in the NHS, retired health service staff and social workers will be allowed to return to work, and medical students near the end of their courses will be able to register as regulated health professionals.
NHS staff will also be covered by a state-backed insurance scheme to ensure they can care for patients if, for example, they are moving outside their day-to-day duties while making use of their skills and training.
Workers will be able to take emergency volunteer leave to help in theNHS and get compensation for statutory unpaid leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks.
And paperwork will be slashed for frontline staff so they can focus on care.
There are also provisions to expand the availability of video and audio links in courts, to introduce statutory sick pay on day one for those self-isolating without symptoms, and allowing small businesses to reclaim sick pay payments.
Hancock said: “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.
“I also want to pay tribute to our brilliantly selfless NHS and social care staff who are working tirelessly to care for our friends and loved ones in this unprecedented period.”
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Chief medical officer Professor 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.”