Authorities Given Powers to Detain Individuals in New Coronavirus Bill

Authorities including the police, public health and immigration officials will be given the ability to detain members of the public who they suspect are infected with COVID-19, the Government has confirmed in its ‘Coronavirus Bill’.

People could be fined up to £1,000 if they refuse to be tested for the infectious disease under these new measures. The bill states that public health officers can order a member of the public who they believe to be infected to go through the necessary screening and testing within 14 days. The individual will need to give biological samples and provide details of their recent travel history.

Public health officers will, like the police, be able to force potential COVID-19 infected individuals to isolate, control their travel and activities, and severely limit or halt their ability to interact with other members of the public.

Coronavirus Bill: New measures are announced every day by the UK Government. [Image: EPA/The Independent.]

Immigration officials and police will be able to make people go for screening, testing and be able to hold individuals whilst they consult with the health authorities.

Such drastic measures will only be enacted if the risk to public health is severe and imminent but it is worrying the authorities will be able to detain whoever they ‘suspect’. In such a hostile climate for migrants, it’s not a stretch to fear immigrants and people of colour will be more harshly affected by these new measures.

The power of the Coronavirus Bill can be used against anyone who provides false information, refuses to travel for their testing or obstruct an official charged with ensuring the person’s travel and contact is restricted at this time.

It is worrying the authorities will be able to detain whoever they suspect

The bill states: “The policy aim of these provisions is to ensure that proportionate measures can be enforced if and when necessary.”

The bill gives the government further power to step in if it believes there is a deliberate disruption regarding food distribution. This means ministers will be able to demand information quickly if they are concerned food is being sourced from the black market.

The Labour Party has demanded that these powers be reviewed every six months but, as things stand, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will prepare a report every two months and put motions before parliament once a year. As things are changing so rapidly with legislation being brought forward due to the COVID-19 crisis, it could be altered in due course.

Coronavirus Bill reserves power to detain
Public health warnings are stationed all across the country to fight the COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping the globe. [Image: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images/The Guardian.]

Many MPs and peers are concerned that measures being put in place could harm human rights and have urged the government to keep people’s human rights as a top priority, alongside the need to curb the spread of coronavirus.

In such a hostile climate for migrants, it’s not a stretch to fear immigrants and people of colour will be more harshly affected by these new measures

The bill is expected to pass through the House of Lords next week. The human rights committee has published a response to stress any governmental measure undertaken to manage COVID-19 has to oblige with Article 2 ECHR, an individual’s right to life.

Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Labour MP Harriet Harman, said: “Times of national crisis call for strong and decisive leadership. However, at this time, it is also vitally important that checks and balances are in place to ensure that human rights are not disregarded, and that people remain fully protected under the law.”

The failings of austerity are put on display for all to see right now, a political choice that has robbed people of their rights for a decade. It is more important than ever to ensure the Government puts the health of its people above all else.

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