The prevailing Coronavirus disease is also known as COVID-19 is caused by grave respiratory ailment coronavirus 2(SARS-CoV-2). This disease has its origin in Wuhan, China. This outbreak happened in December 2019 spreading globally. It is a deadly infectious virus thereby capable of taking millions of lives.
A Pandemic is a situation wherein an infectious disease transmits from one person to another in multiple countries across the globe at the same time. Pandemics usually occur if the virus is pristine. It has the power to infect people effortlessly and spreads from one person to another in a sustained order.
Coronavirus is one of those pandemics. It is a deadly infectious disease spreading virally across nations. This pandemic has led to quarantine and lockdown situations across nations thereby causing a disturbance in socioeconomic conditions globally.
Impact of the pandemic
This pandemic has a serious effect on:
- Sports leading to the postponement or cancellation of the upcoming sports event
- Religious, cultural and political events
- Extensive scarcity of supplies, etc.
- This pandemic has led to the closure of schools, universities, and colleges on a nationwide level across 197 countries. The normal human life is distraught.
The legality of Quarantine Powers
The word Quarantine has been derived from the Italian word “quaranta giorni” which means 40 days. Quarantine is the time when the person or animal that has been or might have been infected from an infectious disease is kept away from other people or animals. Quarantine can lead to the incongruity between public health and the fundamental rights of an individual.
The government uses quarantine as its last option when nothing else is working. Whenever the government feels that the national security and health of the public are at risk it can impose quarantine. Quarantine is imposed by the government in order to impede the movement of suspected or ill people vulnerable to a contagious disease.
Situations across the globe
With COVID-19 spreading across the globe, governments of all the nations have imposed quarantines and restricted traveling on an anomalous scale.
China, Italy, and the US
The entire cities of China are locked down and Italy has imposed tyrannical restrictions throughout the country. In the United States, legal quarantine has been imposed on thousands of people or many of them are in self-quarantine.
Quarantine and restrictions on traveling are usually the first steps against new contagious diseases. These tools have a meager utility for highly epidemic disease. Moreover, if they are imposed in an oppressive manner it can be inimical. An adequate response for viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 cannot be provided by them. In comparison to the quarantine laws imposed by countries such as North Korea, our quarantine laws are very mild.
In North Korea, military law was imposed to enforce quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 laws have been adduced under the Epidemic disease Act, 1897 in India. This act is a 123-year old codification that contains four provisions allowing the State to audit people traveling from railways and ships and separating suspects in hospitals, temporary accommodations, etc. This act came into force in February 1897 with an aim to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.
According to this law, whenever any country or any state or any part of the country or state faces an immediate threat of the spread of any dangerous contagious diseases and the prevailing provisions of the standard law become insufficient in preventing its spread then it authorizes the Central as well as State Governments to take the necessary steps as beneficial to prevent the epidemic of such diseases.
One of the examples is found in the decision of United States Supreme Court case Gibbons v Ogden, it was held that whenever there is any health emergency, an outbreak of any fatal disease, etc the state can impose quarantine laws and health regulations.
They may empower or authorize any person to take precautions as may be required according to the situation. They can also, with the help of public notice impose regulations temporarily that are ought to be followed by the public in order to prevent the spread or outbreak of such an epidemic.
Punishments for disobeying
Any person who does not abide by the regulation or disobeys the regulation or order passed under the law shall be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 with imprisonment for a term of one to six months. To be acquitted under Section 188, the offender need not intend to cause harm or disobey the regulations or orders under the law. The only fact that he is well aware of the order which he is disobeying and that his actions or disobedience produces or is likely to produce harm, is sufficient.
In addition to this States might also invoke Section 144 of CrPC, 1973 in order to curtail public gatherings and impose a curfew. Violations of orders under Section 144 of CrPC are punishable too. Quarantine is considered as one of the oldest methods or tools to fight against the rapid spread of any infectious or contagious disease.
The global response to COVID-19
It has been legally authorized by the jurisdictions of all the countries of the world in order to safeguard public health and control the spread of the life-taking disease. This step is usually taken to prevent or reduce the spread of the disease at a larger scale in order to protect those citizens who have yet not been exposed to the disease. Research has proved that quarantine is a medically accepted mode to prevent the community transmission of the disease. However, this method is successful but only to an extent and another productive solution to this problem is the need for the hour.
The socio-economic impact
The current ongoing crisis of COVID-19 lead to the shutdown of shops, academic institutions, and delaying public examinations thereby compelling people to stay in real quarantine. Even though this quarantine is imposed for the well being of the public but in the view of law it is an interference with the liberty of a person and it can also affect a person at a larger scale in many matters including economic conditions.
In such situations, the health of the public, the rights of an individual needs to be balanced with the interest of the public. Public health and the liberty of an individual are not in conflict with each other rather they are congenial. Talking about the applicability of Quarantine in India, the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, authorizes the state to take preventive measures that also includes an examination of the passengers, distancing people from each other and many other measures to prevent the spread of the dangerous disease.
The 1956 amendments of Epidemic Diseases Act
It was amended in 1956 thereby empowering the Central Government to impose restrictions or regulations in the whole or any part of India to prevent the epidemic of dangerous diseases. Quarantine is not imposed for the first time, it has been imposed several times in peculiar situations caused by cholera, plague, and other diseases in India.
Talking about the current situations prevailing, Coronavirus or COVID-19 is one of those deadly diseases and the World Health Organization has termed it as a pandemic. It is the unrivaled health crisis spread worldwide. The level of the consequences is not clear but the very fact is that the world has come to halt. Quarantine and restrictions on traveling have been imposed worldwide. In India, people have been subjected to legally enforceable quarantine. These measures have been taken in order to reduce or control the epidemic of COVID-19 in all the nations.
Legal steps were taken by India for imposition on quarantine
India has embraced the judicial precedent remedies for the imposition of quarantine that has been an effective measure in the times of epidemics and pandemics. Quarantine requires social distancing to prevent the spread of the transmissible virus. In this situation, the government takes care of providing essential services and supplies to the general public. The quarantine law and its abidance by people as well as the state cannot be challenged.
Section 188,269,270 and 271 of the Indian Penal Code and section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code gains decisive importance in the ongoing crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown orders. Herein Section 269 states that if any person unlawfully or without taking reasonable care does an act of which he is aware that is likely to spread the life-taking disease, is entitled to be punished with the imprisonment of six months or fine or both whatever is suitable.
Section 270 states that any malicious act done in accordance to spread the life taking deadly disease will be subjected to the imprisonment of two years. Whereas, Section 271 states that anyone who disobeys the quarantine law will be subjected to imprisonment. This can be of six months or a fine may be imposed.
In the case of State of Punjab & Ors vs Mohinder Singh Chawla, the Hon’ble Supreme Court discerned that the Right to health is essential to the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The quarantine can affect or interfere with the basic freedom guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. However, it can be guarded by a legal term- Sic Utere Tuo Ut Alienum Non-Laedas
Legal chassis of India against COVID-19
The legal chassis in order to deal with the ongoing Pandemic in India elucidated from given codifications:
- The Constitution of India
- The Epidemic Act 1897
- The Disaster Management Act, 2005.
- The National Health Bill, 2009.
- Indian Aircraft(Public Health) Rules, 1954
- Port Health Rules,1955.
The quarantine law is not drafted in accordance. Though this law is imposed for the betterment of the public, it ignores various other issues. It does not have any proper measures for those issues. Locking down people for longer periods during the quarantine is not a solution. Rather, a good alternative needs to be invented. If the quarantine is not imposed in accordance then it affects many healthy people. In other words, it is the liability of the government. There is no clarity as to how many restrictions or preventions can the government impose during the quarantine.
Proper guidelines on the protection of an individual right shall be mentioned to avoid any chaos. The imposing quarantine cannot be an only measure as it also has its ramifications. All the negative impacts should be analyzed and proper solutions to it must be drawn. This crisis demands the support of each and every individual. Mere restrictions on the movement cannot be the solution. Quarantine might fight the crisis but while giving rise to many grave and severe problems. The government should take measures in providing basic necessities to the poor people who have become unoccupied during this crisis.
Deepakshi Bhalla | Amity Law School, Lucknow