Laws in times of pandemic

Laws v COVID-19

Author: Saumya Shukla
2nd semester,
 Babasaheb bhimrao ambedkar university,

COVID-19  name given by World Health Organisation (WHO) for the disease caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), commonly known as “novle coronavirus”. The novel coronavirus is a new strain of virus that has not been identified in human so far and it is unfamiliar to our immune systems, there is not yet a vaccine for it. If a person contacts the virus, the result is the disease called COVID-19.  Being a respiratory virus, it’s transmitted through respiratory droplets.  Person-to-person contact is thought to be the main method of transmission for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although, we know that there is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19 but we can prevent ourselves from it in many ways through social distancing, face masks, and  hand wash. Government have also imposed quarantines and travel bans on an unprecedent scale. Isolation and quarantine help to protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or who may have a contagious disease.
  • Isolation separates sick people with a quarantinable communicable disease from people who are not sick.
  • Quarantine seperates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick
Quarantine is considered the oldest mechanism to reduce the rapid spread of bacterial infections and viral onslaughts. It was about 196 years ago (1824) that the U.S. Supreme Court, in an sitting led by Chief Justice John Marshall, affirmed the powers of the state to enact quarantine law and impose health regulations.
Laws in India
In India, the government can impose  Epidemic Disease Act,1897   to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. It is the main legal weapon of the government today .
Epidemic diseases act, 1897
A 123 year old law which was drafted to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out in the Bombay state in 1896. It has been used to prevent the spread of various diseases like swine flu. Cholera, malaria and dengue. It is the main legislative framework at the central level to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases. This act comprising merely 4 sections.
Section 2 of the act empowers the state government to take necessary measures and prescribe the regulations to deal with dangerous epidemic disease. It states that if the state government thinks that if other Acts are insufficient for the said purpose, it may take such measures by way of a public notice to prescribe temporary regulations for the public/class of persons to observe.
Section 2 A of the act empowers the central government to take necessary measures and prescribe the regulations for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port in the territory to which this Act extends.
 Section 3 specifies that any person disobeying an order or regulation made by the government under the Act, shall be punishable under this act in accordance with section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 188 of IPC imposes punishment for disobeying an order promulgated by a public servant. If disobedience cause or tends to cause obst
ruction or annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury, it is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend up to a month or fine up to Rs. 200 or both. However, if this disobedience cause or tend to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, it shall be punishable with imprisonment extending up to 6 months or fine up to Rs. 1000 or both. In addition to this it is important to note  that under section 188 of IPC the point of “intention” is not relevant to cause harm as mere knowledge of the order gives sufficient cause for liability of committing the crime.
Section 4 states that no suit or legal proceeding will be initiated against any person or authority for anything done in good faith.
Provisions of IPC in this regard
Indian Penal Code,1860 also provide some provisions relating to pandemic outbreak in addition to section 188.
  • Section 269 of the IPC ensures punishment for negligent actions which may spread infection of any disease, and threatening human life, is punishable with imprisonment which may extends to 6 month or fine or both.
  • Section 270 prescribes for more serious offense which may spread any disease dangerous to life. The punishment under this section may extend to 2 year imprisonment or fine or both
  • Section 271 of the IPC specifies for the punishment for the disobeying quarantine rule in which punishment may extends to 6 months imprisonment or fine or both.
Implications of above IPC provisions can be seen in the case of Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor where FIR has been lodge against her for negligence and disobedience of an order passed by public servant. An FIR is lodged under section 188 as well as section 269, 270, and 271 based on a complaint filed by Chief Medical Officer.

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