Labour MPs alarmed Covid-19 laws being passed without vote | World news

Labour MPs have expressed concern at the possibility of sweeping emergency powers to tackle coronavirus being put into force for two years without a vote, with some saying that despite the scale of the crisis, the measures should face regular review.

The comments will place pressure on the Labour leadership over how to respond to the emergency legislation, expected to be tabled on Thursday, amid speculation the party will allow it to pass the Commons without any votes being held.

The laws, some details of which were announced on Tuesday evening, include medical-related measures such as allowing recently retired or nearly qualified nurses, midwives or paramedics to work in the NHS, with protection given against negligence claims.

Other proposals are more broad, such as giving powers to police or immigration officers to detain people suspected of carrying the virus and “to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment” for an unspecified period.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. In the UK any household where a person develops a fever or a new continuous cough are recommended to self-isolate for 14 days.

Justin McCurry

Other measures would allow ministers to ban gatherings or events, and to make it easier for people to be detained in mental hospitals, and for longer periods.

The powers, which ministers say would only be used if necessary, would be put in place for two years, with no provision mentioned so far for them to be reviewed in the interim.

Clive Lewis, the Norwich South MP and shadow Treasury minister, told the Guardian the idea of the legislation being passed without a vote “does concern me a great deal – but so too does hundreds of fellow MPs hording through the lobbies together in close proximity”.

MPs should be able to scrutinise legislation and vote remotely during the coronavirus crisis, Lewis said: “Hence, this situation should not mean a compete breakdown of our democracy which is what seems to be in offer. Of course there needs to be a balance and the executive given certain extra powers. But those powers need scrutiny, review and regular renewal.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, tweeted: “I can tell you now, this is the greatest emergency we’ve faced for many years, but I’m not voting for draconian emergency measures that last two years unless they require regular renewal by parliament. The civil contingencies bill requires renewal every 28 days.”

Another Labour MP said they did not mind the legislation being passed without a vote “in the circumstances, but I’m very uneasy about the lack of checks and balances and think the bill needs to be strengthened”.

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