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Quarantine orders planned to isolate terrorist target cities

The Government is looking at redrawing the laws allowing emergency cordons to be set up around cities targeted in a terrorist attack.

This could mean people living in areas hit by a biological or chemical weapon would be prevented from leaving in order to contain the problem and prevent it spreading.

The Sunday Times reports that ministers are planning to introduce new laws giving the police and military power to evacuate or quarantine swathes of London or other cities by force.

A health cordon would be set up around the affected area and no one would be allowed to pass through it until the all clear had been given or a period of quarantine had been served.

It is believed that the enforcement of a cordon would prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told the Sunday Times: "There are legal issues around the setting up of health cordons and keeping people in and out of them. The law may need to be tightened in this area and that is what is being looked at."

The Ministry of Defence told the newspaper that a 7,000-strong civil contingency reaction force would be deployed across the UK next year and would be able to carry live arms.

Experts believe that if terrorists did succeed in releasing the virus, there could be a massive death toll.

Earlier this month, the Government announced that it is to acquire sufficient stocks of smallpox vaccine to inoculate the entire population in the event of a germ warfare attack by terrorists.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the plans would provide "a structure for civil defence for the 21st century", updating legislation from 1948 and 1986 that reflected Cold War threats.