The United Kingdom is preparing to pass a massive bill intended to address the spread of the coronavirus. The legislation will make it easier for medical professionals to fight the pandemic. But it also greatly expands the government's authority to control what people can do.
The government plans to pass this 329-page bill on Monday, so there's probably not going to be a whole lot of debate.
On the positive side, the bill will allow for faster registration of nurses, social workers, and other medical workers, and it will allow retired medical professionals to return to the workplace to assist without risking their pensions. Much as we've been seeing in the United States, they're looking to ease up on regulations that make it harder to respond to the pandemic with enough people and flexibility.
Other regulations will be introduced or strengthened. The government will be given the authority to forcibly quarantine an individual if the authorities suspect he or she is infected with the coronavirus, and it will be able to impose criminal sanctions on those who resist. The bill also grants the government the authority to cancel any event or gathering as long as the U.K. secretary of state contends that its for the purpose of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. This includes political protests.
Note: These restrictions aren't being proposed for just the next few months. This law won't expire for two years. The British government contends that these powers can be "switched off" if they're not needed. But they'll still be there, and the government will be free to switch them back on.
The U.K.-based civil rights organization Big Brother Watch has been tweeting out warnings about this bill, noting that "It contains sweeping powers to shut down even political assemblies, which could thwart the possibility of public protest against this power grab in the months ahead. These breathtaking powers demand utmost caution, the closest scrutiny and the strictest time limitations. Many of the powers are unprecedented, unexplained and simply unjustified. The two-year duration of the Act has not been justified and is totally out of step with the existing legal standards for emergency regulations."
Read the massive bill for yourself here. The BBC notes that some MPs want to require the Parliament to review and renew these powers on a monthly basis. But as of yet, they haven't managed to add that to the legislation.