Repository logo

Isolating residents including wandering residents in care and group homes: Medical ethics and English law in the context of Covid-19.

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log


Liddell, Kathleen 
Ruck Keene, Alexander 
Underwood, Benjamin R 


This article investigates the lawfulness of isolating residents of care and group homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many residents are mobile, and their freedom to move is a central ethical tenet and human right. It is not however an absolute right and trade-offs between autonomy, liberty and health need to be made since COVID-19 is highly infectious and poses serious risks of critical illness and death. People living in care and group homes may be particularly vulnerable because recommended hygiene practices are difficult for them and many residents are elderly, and/or have co-morbidities. In some circumstances, the trade-offs can be made easily with the agreement of the resident and for short periods of time. However challenging cases arise, in particular for residents and occupants with dementia who 'wander', meaning they have a strong need to walk, sometimes due to agitation, as may also be the case for some people with developmental disability (e.g. autism), or as a consequence of mental illness. This article addresses three central questions: (1) in what circumstances is it lawful to isolate residents of social care homes to prevent transmission of COVID-19, in particular where the resident has a strong compulsion to walk and will not, or cannot, remain still and isolated? (2) what types of strategies are lawful to curtail walking and achieve isolation and social distancing? (3) is law reform required to ensure any action to restrict freedoms is lawful and not excessive? These questions emerged during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and are still relevant. Although focussed on COVID-19, the results are also relevant to other future outbreaks of infectious diseases in care and group homes. Likewise, while we concentrate on the law in England and Wales, the analysis and implications have international significance.



COVID-19, England, Ethics, Medical, Group Homes, Humans, Nursing Homes, Pandemics, Patient Isolation, Physical Distancing, SARS-CoV-2, Wales

Journal Title

Int J Law Psychiatry

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Elsevier BV