Coronavirus: New powers to direct citizens to stay at home

Cabinet agree on a range of regulations designed to prevent and limit the spread of Covid-19

Eyewitness footage shows how the Croke Park drive-thru Covid-19 testing facility will operate.

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The Government will have the power to restrict travel between geographical areas, prohibit certain events and detain people suspected of having coronavirus under far-reaching new legislation agreed by the Cabinet.

The legislation, which was published on Tuesday night, contains a series of regulations designed to prevent, limit and slow the spread of Covid-19, including a spread outside the State. Under the new measures, the Government will also have the power to direct citizens to stay at home.

The Health Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2020 will allow the Government to legally impose restrictions on travel to and from the State and also to impose restrictions to and from geographical locations.

The proposed law also provides for certain extra powers, should they be needed if extreme situations were to arise, in relation to gatherings and events where there would be an immediate, exceptional and manifest risk to human life and public health from the spread of the coronavirus.

The Government will have the power to require a person to remain in their home and to prohibit events which could pose a risk of infection. Events in certain geographical locations can also be prohibited.

The legislation also provides for the detention of a person believed to be probable source of infection.

Where a medical officer believes that such a person is a potential risk to public health and refuses to remain in their home, the officer can in writing order their detention and isolation in a hospital or other place .

Separately, the legislation also provides for enhanced income supports for people who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or required to self-isolate.

Changes will also be made to remove the waiting period for payment of Jobseekers Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance in these circumstances.

The Government said that these changes will involve “a significant Exchequer cost but are necessary to support the public health objective of ensuring people who need to self-isolate do so”.

Exceptional circumstances

“These are provisions which the Government hopes it won’t have to use, given the powers already in place under the Health Act 1947, but legislation is being introduced to give Government powers in exceptional circumstances in the unlikely event that the need arises,” a Government statement said.

The measures in the Bill relate only to the exceptional circumstances facing the country due to Covid-19.

Speaking on Tuesday, Minister for Health Simon Harris said it is highly unlikely that the more drastic measures, such as detaining a personal suspecting of coronavirus, will need to be used. He said it was “important just to have that permission because we don’t know where this pandemic is going to bring us in the coming days and weeks” .

Opposition parties will examine the legislation on Wednesday and some may seek to make amendments. It will then go before the Dáil on Thursday where a reduced number of TDs will attend in order to comply with social distancing. The legislation will then go to the Seanad on Friday.