The use of emergency powers to combat coronavirus will be “exceptional and short term”, Boris Johnson promised.
The Government intends to rush legislation through later this month which will give more flexibility to schools to help them stay open, give Border Force officers extra powers and make it easier for retired medical staff to return to duty.
Medical experts believe that restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19 may need to be in place for around 12 weeks at the peak of the outbreak, with “social distancing” strategies including school closures, encouraging greater home working and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings.
The new measures could allow children and teachers to swap to different schools to help maintain pupils’ education and class sizes could be allowed to swell.
In medicine, recently retired doctors could be allowed to return into service by giving them the legal cover to practice.
At the border, officials could get greater powers to act if they spot people with the virus.
The Prime Minister said: “It is necessary to have some legislation in respect of things like school operations, borders, quarantine but these are exceptional and short term.
“They are not intended to last beyond the outbreak.”
Ministers want the legislation on the statute books in order that measures can be introduced when they are required.
Officials are keen to avoid imposing restrictions too soon, and are also weighing up the social cost of measures in comparison to the health benefits they may bring.
For instance, insisting on football matches being played behind closed doors would not necessarily combat the spread of the virus if fans congregated in close quarters in pubs instead.
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “Any new emergency laws to tackle the virus must be proportionate and time-limited, with a cast-iron sunset clause to ensure that ministers are not given sweeping permanent powers.”