Coronavirus Act 2020 Regulation 51 Powers Relating to potentially infectious persons
Commencement: 25th March 2020
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/129)
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/308 (W. 68))
The Coronavirus Act sets out temporary administrative and regulatory changes to a range of sectors and issues including healthcare, schools, social care, food supply, courts and tribunals, local authorities, local elections, ports, pensions and other benefits, etc. The Act does not directly affect management of occupational health, safety and environmental matters, but provisions relating to control of infectious persons may be of interest.
This Act sets out much of the UK Government’s emergency response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The Act makes multiple temporary changes to administrative and regulatory requirements relating to healthcare, schools, social care, food supply, courts and tribunals, local authorities, local elections, ports, pensions and other benefits, etc. The Act does not create duties relevant to management of health, safety and environmental matters. Most of the provisions of the Act are therefore not summarised below.
The Act gives the Secretary of State and the devolved administrations, power to declare that the spread of coronavirus presents a serious and imminent threat, which in turn triggers powers of health officials, police constables and immigration officers to detain potentially infectious people, and power to request information to be provided about an infectious person’s recent contacts. These powers may be of interest to organisations and are therefore summarised below.
‘Transmission control periods’
The Act allows the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers, or Department of Health (Northern Ireland) to declare (in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively) that there is a serious and imminent risk arising from coronavirus. The declaration is made by publishing a notice to this effect online and in the London Gazette (England), Edinburgh Gazette (Scotland), a newspaper circulating in Wales (Wales), or the Belfast Gazette (Northern Ireland).
The declaration must be revoked when the serious and imminent threat ceases.
The period during which a serious and imminent threat has been declared is referred to as a ‘transmission control period’.
The Act specifies that the first transmission control period commenced in England on 10th February 2020 and in Wales on 17th March 2020. The Scottish Government published a notice to this effect in the Edinburgh Gazette on 27th March 2020. Regulations in Northern Ireland (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020) state the coronavirus presents a serious and imminent threat in Northern Ireland.
Power relating to potentially infectious persons
Section 51 and Schedule 21 set out powers of public health officers, police constables and immigration officers in relation to potentially infectious people.
The definition of ‘public health officer’ varies slightly between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in each case it means a designated public health official.
A ‘potentially infectious person’ is a person who is or may be infected with coronavirus and who may infect others, or a person who has been in an ‘infected area’ within the preceding 14 days. An ‘infected area’ is an area declared by the Secretary of State as having a high incidence of coronavirus infection.
The powers set out include a power to require a person to submit to ‘screening and assessment’. ‘Screening’ means assessing whether the person has been exposed to coronavirus and whether they have become infected. ‘Assessment’ means determining what control measures may be required to mitigate the risk of them infecting others.
A screening and assessment centre, as referred to below is simply any place where screening and assessment are undertaken. Screening and assessment centres are not formally designated as such.
The various powers set out in the sections below can only be exercised if it is in the interests of: the potentially infected person; to protect other people; or to protect public health, in relation to coronavirus.
Before making or revoking a declaration, the relevant Minister must first consult the Chief Medical Officer in the jurisdiction concerned.
Power to require somebody to attend a screening and assessment place
During a transmission control period, a public health officer, police constable or immigration officer can direct a potentially infectious person to attend a screening and assessment centre. A public health officer or immigration officer may request that a police constable takes the person (using reasonable force if necessary) to the centre.
The person exercising the power must inform the potentially infected person why the power is being exercised, and that failure to comply is an offence.
Where this power is exercised by a police constable or immigration officer not at the direction of a public health officer, they must first consult a public health officer, if it is practical to do so.
Powers which may be exercised at a screening and assessment place
During a transmission control period, a public health officer has the following power in relation to a person who is at a screening and assessment centre, if the public health officer has reason to believe the person is potentially infectious:
- Direct the person to remain at the screening place for up to 48 hours;
- Require the person to undergo screening and assessment;
- Require the person to comply with other requirements (e.g. to allow medical professionals to take biological samples, to answer questions about their health, to produce relevant documents, and to provide contact details);
- Direct the person to go to another place for screening or assessment.
A public health officer may request assistance from a police constable to take the person (using reasonable force if necessary) to the screening and assessment centre.
A police constable or immigration officer can detain a person at a screening and assessment centre until a public health officer is able to exercise any of the powers set out above. A police constable can detain a person for a maximum of 48 hours (24 hours initially, extended for a further 24 hours). An immigration officer can detain a person for a maximum of 12 hours (3 hours initially, extended for a further 9 hours).
Where any of these powers are exercised, the person exercising them must explain to the detained person why the power is being exercised, and that failure to comply is an offence.
Powers which may be exercised after assessment
During a transmission control period, a public health officer can impose certain requirements and restrictions on a person who has been screened, if the test either confirmed coronavirus infection or was inconclusive, or if the public health officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person is infected.
The requirements which may be imposed include as follows:
- to provide information;
- to provide contact details;
- to go to another screening and assessment centre;
- to remain at a place (and also in isolation from others) for a defined period of time not exceeding 14 days.
The restrictions which may be imposed include:
- restrictions in relation to travel;
- restrictions in relation to work;
- restrictions in relation to contact with others.
A requirement to remain in a place can be enforced by a public health officer or a police constable.
The person exercising these powers must consider the wellbeing and personal circumstances of the person over whom they are exercising them.
Any directions, requirements or restrictions imposed on a person during a transmission control period automatically cease when the transmission control period ends.
The person exercising the powers above must take account of guidance issued by the relevant authorities (Secretary of State, Welsh or Scottish Ministers, Department of Health in Northern Ireland), and also any guidance or advice from a public health officer.
Where any of these powers are exercised, the person exercising them must inform the person why the power is being exercised, and that failing to comply is an offence.
The Act requires the public health officer to review any requirements or restrictions imposed after 48 hours, and gives powers to vary and in some cases to extend any requirements or restrictions, subject to limitations on the length of any extension. There is a right of appeal to the Magistrates Court (England and Wales), Sheriff or Summary Sheriff (Scotland), or Court of Summary Jurisdiction (Northern Ireland).
The Act makes additional provision in relation to children (defined as anybody under the age of 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or under 16 in Scotland).
A public health officer, police constable or immigration officer can direct a person with parental responsibility or custody and charge of a child, to take the child to a screening and assessment centre. The person with responsibility for the child must ensure so far as reasonably practicable that the child complies with the direction. The person with responsibility for the child must also comply with any request for information made under the Act.
The Act requires any powers exercised under it in relation to a child to be exercised in the presence of the person with responsibility for the child wherever possible. The Act does permit powers to be exercised where there is no person available with responsibility for the child.
Directions given verbally or in writing
A direction given to a person under any of the powers described above may be given verbally or in writing. Requirements or restrictions given to a person following screening and assessment may be given verbally but should be followed up in writing.
Police constables and immigration officers may use reasonable force when exercising any powers under this Act. Police constables also have a right of entry into buildings in connection with exercise of their powers.
The Act sets out various offences including:
- failing to comply with any direction, instruction, requirement or restriction without reasonable excuse (including where a responsible person fails to comply with any direction, requirement etc in relation to a child);
- absconding or attempting to abscond when required to attend a screening and assessment centre;
- providing false information;
- obstructing somebody from exercising powers set out above.
Penalties may include a fine (England, Wales, Northern Ireland), or a fine or imprisonment for up to 12 months (Scotland).
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