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The Scottish government is seeking to make many of its emergency coronavirus powers permanent, including the ability to close schools, introduce lockdowns and operate virtual courts.
It is also looking at a change in the law to permanently allow them to release prisoners early or permit a wider range of healthcare workers to administer vaccinations.
In June, MSPs agreed to extend the emergency measures until March 2022, with the option of extending them for six months, to September 2022, without passing a new law.
Announcing a public consultation on removing the planned expiry date, SNP Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney insisted that some of the changes have had a “demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland”.
The consultation published by ministers argues that making many of the measures permanent would ensure “ministers can respond effectively and rapidly to any future threats to public health in Scotland” and not just coronavirus.
Under the proposals, ministers would also be able to order school closures “during the remainder of the pandemic” or for any future outbreak of an infectious disease, so long as they believe it is “necessary and proportionate”, and the chief medical officer has been consulted.
The consultation also suggests a permanent shift to more digital options, including the remote registration of deaths or still births, council meetings and electronic court documents.
Mr Swinney said: “As we enter the recovery phase, we now have a unique opportunity to reimagine how health and social care, learning and justice services can be designed and delivered around the lives and needs of the people who use them.”
He added that the government remains “committed to expiring or suspending any existing provisions that are no longer necessary, and will continue to report to Parliament every two months on the use of any temporary powers”.
The public will have 12 weeks until the consultation period ends on 9 November to share their views.
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “These powers were intended to be temporary measures to deal with the pandemic.
“The fact that SNP ministers are now seeking to make many of them permanent is a clear sign they are unwilling to give up their control over people’s lives.
“It is a dangerous route to go down to allow ministers to implement sweeping powers upon society on a whim.”