Tory PM planning to exploit coronavirus fears
Boris Johnson is planning emergency legislation to grant himself sweeping powers in response to the coronavirus outbreak. However, the government has said that these powers will not come into force until the end of March – and claims that the spread of the disease will not become serious enough to require them until April at the earliest.
However, fears are growing that the government is under-reporting the scale of infections. The official figures say that 39 people are infected in the UK – but anecdotal reports of confirmed infections in schools and other locations appear to suggest a significantly more serious scale, if true. Such a scale would certainly be more in keeping with what has been seen in Italy and other so-called ‘hotspots’ and the confirmed ‘community transmissions’ in the US.
Such under-reporting is not without historical precedent. The 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic, which killed as many as 100 million people globally, was named as such only because Spain was the only European country reporting its death toll accurately.
A draft of the powers Johnson intends to award to himself are not expected to be published for several days. However, they are believed to be on a par with those used by the Chinese government. There has been no indication that there will be any extra provision for zero-hours or other vulnerable workers forced into quarantine, nor any measures to force employers to continue to pay affected workers.
Whether the legislation will include an in-built expiry date for those powers remains to be seen.
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