Government lawyers are assessing the possibility of delaying the local authority, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections in May if the coronavirus outbreak continues to escalate, the Guardian can disclose.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said on Sunday the government was considering all options, from closing schools to isolating entire cities if Covid-19 became a pandemic. He said ministers would publish a plan this week to explain how they may tackle such an event.
An email sent to board members of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners on Saturday by its chief executive, Susannah Hancock, reveals that these measures would also include potentially delaying the forthcoming elections.
She said that the Home Office, in discussions with the Cabinet Office, had sought legal advice on postponing the elections.
“We have had a number of inquiries today regarding the PCC elections, coronavirus and whether the May PCC and local elections will take place,” the email reads.
“I have spoken with the Home Office and they are currently liaising with Cabinet Office to understand their latest thinking and planning on this.” The Home Office “are also engaging lawyers at their end to understand how things could proceed and what if any primary legislation might be needed etc”.
She added that the Home Office would keep the APCC updated and that police and crime commissioners would be briefed soon.
“We can get further information out to PCCs once we have more info next week, but I wanted to let you know the latest and that work is in hand.”
The local elections are due to be held on Thursday 7 May. About 118 English councils will be contested, along with eight directly elected mayors in England and 40 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.
In 2001, the local elections were delayed because of the foot and mouth epidemic, the first delay to local elections since the second world war, as more than 6 million sheep, cattle and pigs were slaughtered to contain the outbreak.
A government spokesperson said the UK was “extremely well prepared for these types of outbreaks” but would not comment directly on the plans to assess the possibility of delaying the elections.
“We are continuing to work closely across government, with the World Health Organization and the international community as the outbreak develops to ensure we are ready for all eventualities,” they said.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “The commission and the electoral community are working hard to ensure that the scheduled May elections can go ahead as planned, as well as monitoring the developing issue of the coronavirus and its potential impact.
“Any changes to the date of May’s polls would be a matter for the UK government and parliament. In the event of any changes to the date, we would work with the electoral community to minimise any potential disruption.”