Three ways the government could restrict our freedoms under its emergency coronavirus bill

Travellers who had been aboard the Braemar cruise ship, operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, and wearing face masks as a precautionary measure against covid-19, react as they arrive at Heathrow Airport in London on March 19, 2020, after being flown back from Cuba. - The MS Braemar had more than 1,000 people aboard including five confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 50 people in isolation due to showing flu-like symptoms. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
The government could suspend operations at airports under the coronavirus bill. (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Individual freedoms could be restricted under proposed new powers set out in the government’s emergency coronavirus bill.

Downing Street said the purpose of the bill, published on Thursday, is to allow the government to manage a coronavirus pandemic – reiterating the point that 80% of the UK population could be infected.

Dozens of measures have been proposed in the bill, with health secretary Matt Hancock saying they are “proportionate to the threat we face”.

They will last for up to two years if and when the bill becomes law. It is expected to be fast-tracked through Parliament next week.

Here are three of the measures in the bill that could restrict individual freedoms.

Enforced screening for people deemed infectious

In its explanation of the bill, the government made clear it understands the “vast majority” of people who have or may have coronavirus “will comply with relevant public health advice”. This includes calling the NHS 111 service and going into self-isolation for two weeks if showing coronavirus symptoms.

Nonetheless, it has laid out measures which would provide police, public health officers and immigration officers with powers to force people suspected of being infectious to undergo screening and assessment for coronavirus.

Failure to comply could result in a £1,000 fine.

Banning mass gatherings and events

Boris Johnson, when announcing “drastic” new measures on Monday to restrict the spread of coronavirus, withdrew the support of emergency workers for mass gatherings – without actually banning them.

The new bill would give the government power to ban or restrict such events and gatherings. It could also close premises.

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This measure could be deployed if it is deemed to prevent, protect or control transmission of coronavirus.

Failure to comply could result in a fine, though the bill doesn’t specify how much this could be.

Shutdown of airports and train stations

Freedom to travel at airports, international rail terminals and seaports could be taken away if coronavirus leads to insufficient Border Force officers available to maintain border security.

This means travel from such ports could be suspended for up to six hours. This could then be extended for another six hours, and then further periods of 12 hours if there still isn’t sufficient border security.

However, the government said “there is a high threshold for the use of the power” and that “all reasonably practicable measures to mitigate the risk” must be used before it is enforced.

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