Coronavirus Act 2020
First identified in China in December 2019, the new coronavirus COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020. In response to the pandemic, governments across the world implemented measures such as national lockdowns and self-isolation requirements.
On 19 March 2020, the UK government introduced the Coronavirus Bill 2020 as emergency legislation to support its pandemic response. The bill included a range of powers and flexibilities for government and public services in England during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Coronavirus Act 2020
On 25 March 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 received royal assent. The legislation introduced powers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the health and care sector, such as closing institutions like schools and nurseries, limiting public gatherings, postponing elections, setting up isolation rules for individuals and enabling public services to operate remotely instead of in-person. The Act also included ‘easements’ to the Care Act 2014 to enable local authorities to prioritise care for people with the most urgent need during the pandemic.
The Act contained a sunset clause – meaning the measures would expire after 2 years, with flexibility for leaders of the four nations to enact and remove these powers as necessary. The Department of Health and Social Care stated that these measures were ‘temporary, proportionate to the threat we face, will only be used when strictly necessary and be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation’. The Act required that the provisions be reviewed every 6 months.
On 21 February 2022, the government set out plans for the future of the Act in its ‘Living with COVID-19’ strategy. Most of the non-devolved temporary provisions had already expired or would be left to expire on 24 March 2022. Four measures were made permanent in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2022 and the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022. These were measures to support coronial services and the use of remote technology to undertake court hearings.
The government also set out that some of the provisions of the Act, such as indemnity for health service activity which ensured there would be no gaps in insurance coverage for NHS clinical negligence, would be kept in place. It stated that they ‘would require new primary legislation in order to repeal’ and ‘are still necessary to support the recovery from the pandemic’.
Coronavirus Act 2020,c.7.
Coronavirus Act 2020 [webpage].
UK Parliament; 2021.
Department of Health and Social Care.
What the Coronavirus Bill will do [webpage].
COVID-19 response: living with COVID-19 [webpage].
Expiry of the Coronavirus Act's temporary provisions.
House of Commons Library; 2022.
COVID-19 policy tracker 2020: a timeline of national policy and health system responses to COVID-19 in England in 2020 [webpage].
Health Foundation; 2020.