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Emergency coronavirus legislation to be published ahead of school closures

The legislation comes as the Army prepares to help out in the crisis and Londoners faced the prospect of greater restrictions.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock will shortly table legislation to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will shortly table legislation to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will shortly table legislation to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus outbreak will be published in Parliament after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of schools and cancellation of exams.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will table the Emergency Coronavirus Bill setting out measures aimed at slowing the spread and supporting the NHS and workers in the Commons on Thursday.

The legislation will be presented as the Army prepares to help out in the crisis and Londoners faced the prospect of greater restrictions, with the capital suffering a faster spread of Covid-19.

So far, 104 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK and tens of thousands of people are thought to be infected.

Analysis from Edge Health suggested the NHS will face substantial pressures on critical care beds as the outbreak continues.

According to their modelling, there will be a shortfall of 2,900 beds in the Midlands at “peak Covid-19 ventilator demand”, while the south west has the fewest critical care beds and will need a 600% increase, or 1,900, to meet demand.

Schools across the UK were preparing to close to all pupils except those of key workers in a bid to halt the disease’s spread.

English schools will shut their gates on Friday until further notice, as will nurseries, colleges and childminders.

GCSEs and A-levels in both England and Wales will be cancelled – although the Prime Minister said there are plans for students to receive qualifications.

In Scotland and Wales, all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday. A decision on whether exams will sit in Scotland has not yet been taken.

Schools in Northern Ireland will shut and it is expected pupils will not sit summer exams.

Universities have called for clarity on the implications of cancelling exams with Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, saying: “Students should not lose out on the opportunity to go on to university this year because of the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“We are committed to working closely with the government, UCAS, examination regulators and school leaders on the practical implications of this and hope there will be clarity on this for students, parents, teachers and university admissions staff as soon as possible.”

Mr Johnson said measures taken so far were helping to slow the spread of the disease, but he did not rule out tougher measures being enforced down the line.

The PM also did not rule out stricter controls being imposed on London ahead of the rest of the nation, with fears of a lockdown being imposed like in other nations.

Transport for London (TfL) announced up to 40 Tube stations would be closed on Thursday and a reduced service would run on the rails from Friday.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned Londoners they should not be travelling unless they “really, really have to”, but insisted the network must remain open to aid frontline health workers.

Meanwhile, the number of troops in a heightened state of readiness will be doubled to 20,000 while Reserves were to be placed on standby to support public services in a new “Covid support force”.

The Ministry of Defence was also planning to put 150 military personnel into training to drive oxygen tankers around the country to support the NHS.

A number of supermarkets are continuing to limit the number of products customers can buy in stores as they try to battle the huge demand from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Panicked shoppers spent an extra £57.3 million on items for “stockpiling” including medicines, handwash and canned food in the first week of March compared to the previous week as pandemic panic set in, reported The Grocer citing data from Nielsen Scantrack.

Mr Hancock’s emergency legislation will also include plans to hand police powers to arrest and isolate people to protect public health but will be time-limited for two years.

Labour is not expected to force a vote on the legislation, allowing it to pass through Parliament swiftly with some MPs in self-isolation and concerns about others gathering in the House.

But leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote a list of conditions to the PM which he said would need to be considered to gain public support.

Mr Corbyn said the legislation must be renewed by a fresh vote in Parliament every six months in order to prevent too much power being handed to the Government.

He also said rent suspension must be introduced, called for the ban on evictions to last six months and for jobs and incomes to receive greater protection.

Some hospitals have begun stopping all non-essential visits to patients, while the FTSE 100 continued its downward slump as the financial impact of the crisis failed to cease.

The cultural impact also continued, with filming on EastEnders and BBC Studios dramas including Casualty, Doctors, Holby City, Pobol y Cwm and River City was postponed.

However, there was a glimmer of hope in a day of bleak developments when the PM hailed a “game-changer” test was “coming down the track.”

It would test for antibodies to the virus and be able to tell if someone has been infected and recovered, allowing them to return to work.

PA