Coronavirus: Boris Johnson claims tide will turn in 12 weeks

Emergency powers to detain people suspected of having coronavirus for testing will apply to children, it has emerged, as Boris Johnson told the nation they can “turn the tide within the next 12 weeks” by following guidance not to go out.

Legislation published yesterday would give authorities the power to hold individuals for up to 48 hours and require them to report for testing, on penalty of a £1,000 fine.

The law, due to be rushed through Westminster next week and rubber-stamped by the Scottish Parliament, will also give authorities the power to shut any public venue and let councils take control of burials.

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Yesterday the Prime Minister told the nation he was “absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in defiant mood during his coronavirus news conference. Picture: Leon Neal\Getty Images

But amid growing concern that large numbers of people are refusing to follow medical guidance on social distancing, Mr Johnson pleaded with the public: “I know it’s tough, I know it’s difficult ... but please, please follow the advice.”

He stressed that “nothing is ruled out”, suggesting tougher restrictions on movement could be introduced if people failed to comply with advice.

“I think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country,” he told a press conference at Number 10.

“But only if we all take the steps that we’ve outlined, that is vital, that’s how we’re going to reduce the peak and once we’ve achieved that and I think that we will, if we take the steps I’ve said, then the scientific progress that we’ve been making will really start coming into play.”

Sweeping powers under the Coronavirus Bill – totalling 329 pages – would expire after two years. They would include the power to require a child to be tested even if a guardian cannot be reached for permission.

As well as relaxing rules to allow authorities to cancel public events and redeploy staff within the health and social care workforce, the law aims to “maximise the pool of volunteers” by creating a new category of unpaid statutory leave.

It will also allow for the nationwide shutdown of schools and the creation of a “skeleton” service to look after the children of “key workers” such as medics and transport staff.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs that all stages of the bill would be considered by members on Monday, before it progresses to the Lords later in the week.

Other measures include powers for ministers to write to an operator of a port requiring their operation be suspended.

Food suppliers would also have to provide information to the appropriate authority if all or part of a food supply chain is being disrupted or is at risk of disruption.

Local authorities will also be given the power to decide what happens to dead bodies and their disposal to ensure excess deaths do not overwhelm the system, and funeral directors acting on behalf of a family will be able to register a person’s death.

Mr Johnson told reporters that British experts expect to start trials for a vaccine against Covid-19 within a month, although expectations are that a vaccine will take at least a year.

And he said negotiations are under way to purchase a test that would determine whether someone had recovered from the virus, allowing them to return to normal life without the risk of infecting others.

The antibody screening would be a “total game-changer” and “as simple as a pregnancy test”, the Prime Minister said, with up to 250,000 carried out per day.

But he said he could not guarantee that by the end of June the outbreak would be on a “downward slope”, although he promised restrictive measures “would be finite”.

The government’s scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said 12 weeks “is the timescale over which we need to really push to make sure that we get there”.

And England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned there will be a “lag” before the public’s efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 will result in a slowing of case numbers.

Earlier, Prof Whitty said the vast majority of people in all age groups would recover but it was a mistake for young people who are healthy to think they would all just “breeze through” the pandemic.

Sir Patrick urged people to follow measures set out by the government, saying: “Unless everybody looks at the measures that have been introduced by the government on trying to encourage social distancing, unless everybody does that it doesn’t have the effect.

“The mixing in pubs and restaurants and so on that is part of allowing the disease to spread needs to stop and it needs to stop among young people as well as older people.”