'This is not the Great Plague': Tory peer warns against strict coronavirus measures

Lord Robathan said the coronavirus wasn't as bad as the Great Plague (PA Images via Getty Images)

A Tory peer has warned against proposed emergency measures to fight coronavirus by saying: “This is not the Great Plague.”

Lord Robathan said the threat of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, should be “kept in proportion”.

He was speaking on Tuesday during a debate on the Coronavirus Bill in the House of Lords, a day after Boris Johnson told Britons to stay at home as part of stricter measures to battle the spread of the disease.

The bill, which grants ministers, councils, police, health professionals and coroners increased controls that are due to last for up to two years, has already cleared the Commons in just one sitting.

But Lord Robathan said he did not like the legislation, which he said imposed "draconian and oppressive restrictions".

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Although he did not oppose the bill, he said the restrictions and the "closing down of our country" were "disproportionate".

Lord Robathan said: "This is not the Black Death, nor the Great Plague of 1665, nor the Spanish flu, nor war.

“It's a very real health crisis which should be taken very seriously indeed – but should also be kept in proportion."

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According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 396,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide, with more than 17,000 deaths and more than 103,000 recoveries.

The Great Plague from 1665 to 1666 killed an estimated 100,000 people in London, while the Black Death, the worst pandemic in history, caused the deaths of between 75 million and 200 million people.

Introducing the bill to the House of Lords, Lord Bethell, under secretary of state at the Department of Health, urged peers to back the emergency legislation and “buy time” for the NHS.

Global cases of coronavirus (PA)

"This is an extraordinary bill for an extraordinary moment in the history of the country,” he said.

"It gives us the legislative and regulatory toolkit we need to respond to a constantly evolving situation."

Under the bill, police would be given authority to force those infected with COVID-19 to self-isolate.

"Fundamentally, this bill is about buying time," said Lord Bethell. "Time can help us. With each day that passes, the science is getting better.

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"Each day brings us closer to faster, more accurate testing capabilities and ultimately a vaccine."

"Each day that we can slow the rate of transmission is a small victory that will lead us to the ultimate defeat of the virus."

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For the opposition, Lord Falconer offered Labour's full support for the emergency powers.

"In normal times it would be utterly unacceptable," he said. "These are not normal times.

"As long as the emergency lasts and these powers are necessary, they should be available to the government."

Lord Falconer said there needed to be "immediate compliance” by the public with the government’s “stay at home” message.

He said time was too short to give full scrutiny to the bill and vowed to focus on the key issues, putting down only a small number of amendments to improve the legislation at its later stages.