Retired police could be back on the beat as coronavirus crisis hits 999 officers

Retired police officers and part-time constables could be called on to help forces as the coronavirus crisis intensifies, MPs were told tonight.

Voluntary police specials maybe paid and diverted from their day jobs if sickness hammers the regular service, the Commons Home Affairs Committee heard.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton, the National Police Chiefs' Council spokesman for civil contingencies, said the measures could be introduced “to maximise our capacity”.

Admitting services would be scaled back as the pandemic deepens, Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill, of the National Police Coordination Centre, said: “As things become more and more challenging, we will withdraw from certain activities, prioritise and take a graduated withdrawal of service approach.”

That could include scrapping beat patrols so officers can only respond to 999 calls.

Mr Netherton called for testing for Covid-19 to be speeded-up for emergency workers – but said doctors, nurses and paramedics “are going to require that before us”.

He added: “If there is any spare we will take it because it's about getting our staff back onto the frontline.”

Chiefs want the tests so they can send officers back onto the streets without fear they will infect colleagues.

Mr Netherton also tried to reassure MPs over new emergency powers to detain suspected coronavirus sufferers who refuse to self-isolate.

“They are not designed to be something that police can use on the street willy-nilly,” he said.

“They are designed to support Public Health England, they are designed as part of a medical issue, not a general policing issue.

“I wouldn't want the public or anyone else to think suddenly the police have got these draconian powers, they can lock-up anybody just because they cough.”

The committee, which is examining Home Office preparations for Covid-19, also heard from Lucy Moreton, corporate officer for the Immigration Services Union, who raised concerns about quarantining at two immigration removal centres near Heathrow Airport.

She told MPs the centres were locked down because of a suspected outbreak of seasonal flu.

“I'm assured by detention services it's not Covid, it is just seasonal flu,” she said.

“But they can't test so they have no way of knowing.”

Labour MP Stephen Doughty said: “That's absolutely crackers.”

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