Friday, 16 July 2021

Coronavirus Restrictions ~ Changes from 19 July

On 14 and 15 July, with a stroke of his Ministerial pen, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Mr Sajid Javid MP) "made" two important Statutory Instruments. The changes apply only to England. The law is different in Wales, Scotland, and in Northern Ireland.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps etc.) (England) (Revocation and Amendment) Regulations 2021 - [SI: 2021/848] - in force 11.55 pm on 18 July 2021. 

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 - [SI: 2021/851] - in force partly on 19 July 2021 but fully in force from 16 August 2021. 

For both sets of new Regulations, the government has

again invoked section 45R of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. This enables Regulations to take effect in law without prior Parliamentary approval.  18 months into the pandemic, the continued use of section 45R is questionable.

*** What has been revoked from 11.55 pm 18 July***

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Collection of Contact Details etc and Related Requirements) Regulations 2020 - [ Note: Only applied to England even though the title of Regulations did not contain the word England].

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Obligations of Undertakings) (England) Regulations 2020

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Local Authority Enforcement Powers and Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020

In addition, 16 Statutory Instruments which amended other Statutory Instruments are also revoked.

*** What has been amended ***

Regulations impose a self-isolation requirement on persons who have tested positive for coronavirus and their contacts. These Regulations continue in force but are amended. 

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 are amended by The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

As noted above, the amendments are fully in force from 16 August 2021. The effect of the amendment is set out in this Explanatory Note.

*** International Travel ***

Coronavirus-related Regulations have applied to international travel since June 2020 and have been the subject of numerous amendments - far too many to mention here. 

Legal restrictions continue to apply - see UK government Travel Abroad and  UK Government International Travel.

*** Coronavirus Act 2020 ***

The Coronavirus Act 2020 (as amended) remains in force but a number of further amendments have been made by The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Early Expiry) Regulations 2021 - [SI: 2021/856] - in force 16 July 2021.

Continuation of the Act is due to be considered by MPs in September 2021 - (see Hansard 25 March 2021).

*** GUIDANCE ***

A considerable amount of Guidance will continue to be issued by government. The guidance may be seen at 

UK Government - Coronavirus

UK Government - List of Guidance

As a general principle, guidance is not enforceable by the criminal law but individuals are well-advised to adhere to it in the face of the on-going pandemic against a highly contagious virus.

The extent to which civil liability might apply if, for example, a business does not adhere to relevant guidance is beyond the scope of this post but this is an important issue that may yet have to be considered. Obviously, businesses are also well advised to adhere to any guidance that has been issued.

*** Could restrictions return? ***

The legal answer is YES. The legislative powers continue to exist - e.g. the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The spread of the virus and the possible impact on services such as hospitals may yet result in the government having to reimpose restrictions enforceable by the criminal law. Restrictions could be imposed at short notice - e.g. using section 45R - (referred to earlier).

At the time of writing 67.1% of the UK adult population has received two doses of a vaccine and 87.5% a first. The government is clearly hoping that the extent of vaccination will be enough to justify the removal of restrictions but a more careful approach would have included retention of face coverings for public transport and in some other settings such as large shops / supermarkets. 

It may well be that transport and businesses will continue to require face coverings as a condition of using the transport or of entry to business premises - e.g. supermarkets. Transport undertakings and businesses wishing to impose such conditions will have to ensure compliance with the Equality Act 2010.

The removal of restrictions is seen as premature by numerous health professionals - The Guardian 13 July 2021 and at a time of rising infections (currently around 48,000 per day), rising hospital admissions and an increasing death rate it is difficult to disagree with their assessment.

Note:

The Hansard Society's Coronavirus Dashboard is an excellent source of information regarding the legislation. It is interesting to see that some 472 Statutory Instruments relating to coronavirus have been issued since January 2020.

A further excellent resource has been created and maintained by barrister Adam Wagner - 

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