Quarantine is a process whereby a healthy individual who encountered someone infected with a disease are kept separated from other healthy individuals. It is done to control their movement and to monitor whether they might have been also infected or not. At the onset of any deadly pandemic, Governments all around the world takes drastic measures to prevent further spread of a disease. Such has been in the case of the Coronavirus outbreak, where Bangladesh Government stepped in to declare home quarantine followed by a lockdown all over the country.
But the above definition of Quarantine has been conveniently altered by us. As soon as the lockdown was declared, buses, rail and river ports quickly filled up with hundreds of people. Violating the rules, our itinerant countrymen were either heading towards tourist spots or their hometown. But such ignorance would not only backfire at us but put the entire nation at risk. As new patients line up at the hospitals, it is high time we mend our ways, or it will be too late.
The number of COVID-19 patients is rising at an alarming rate in Bangladesh. As of 26th March 2020, the total number of Coronavirus cases in the country is 44, with five deaths reported. It has so far infected 471,053 people around the world, with deaths reaching 21,283 as of the given date. The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and the Health Ministry of Bangladesh have made it mandatory for every person returning from abroad to maintain home quarantine. The Honourable Prime Minister herself urged the citizens to strictly follow the rules but no one seems to pay heed to it. The announcement of mandatory home quarantine has rather made us curious. Not only are we neglecting the hazard but taking it as some joyous occasion.
News circulating from all over the country reported ridiculous incidents following the announcement. The most notable ones are, on 20th March 2020, a returnee from Italy while on quarantine got injured on a motorcycle accident. At a separate incident, a photojournalist was sent in quarantine as got inside a quarantine centre to take photos. Hundreds of people surrounded a locked down house in Mirpur.
In Nabiganj, a crowd of five hundred people gathered in front of a house to get a glimpse of a person who had been kept in isolation. A suspected patient while escaping from a hospital in Barisal was caught red handed by four young men. The men carried the patient on their shoulders back to the hospital. To celebrate such bravery, there was a rally in their area participated by more than two hundred people! Such irrational behaviour is undoubtedly contributing to the number of patients at the hospital. The law clearly lays down the methods of home quarantine and the consequence of breaching the rule.
Legal Obligations of Quarantine:
The International Health Regulation talks about quarantine of a suspected person who encountered a COVID-19 patient. According to Article 32 of the regulation states that anyone who returned to his home country from a COVID-19 affected country or anyone who came in contact with a COVID-19 patient must stay at home quarantine for 14 days. Along with the international guidelines, our national laws can come handy in keeping things under control.
With a view to tackle and prevent the spread of contagious diseases, the Bangladesh Government passed The Communicable Diseases (Prevention, Control and Eradication) Act in 2018. The Act makes noncompliance to its rules a bailable and non-cognizable offence. The Government had also incorporated the COVID-19 in the list of diseases mentioned in the Act and the gazette which made this happen was given a retrospective effect. Hence, the rules regarding offences apply to Coronavirus cases as well. In a situation like this, we realized its importance like no other times.
Section 14 of the Act states that an authorized official can transfer or isolate an infected person to another place temporarily in accordance to the rules, if he has a reason to believe that others might be infected due to him.
According to Section 24, if a person spreads an infectious virus or assists in doing so, or knowingly comes into contact with a healthy person, or place and while doing so doesn’t disclose the risk of infection, then it will be an offence. Such an offence is punishable by six months of imprisonment, or up to One Lac Taka fine or both.
Section 25 imposes a minimum 3 months imprisonment or up to Fifty Thousand Taka fine or both on anyone who doesn’t allow or obstruct the Deputy Commissioner, civil surgeon or any authorised individual in their duty.
Section 26 of the Act makes it an offence if a person deliberately gives untrue or misleading information while having the actual knowledge of an infectious disease. Anyone committing such offence will be liable up to 2 months of imprisonment or up to 25 thousand Taka fine or both. Offences under this Act will be tried under the rules prescribed in the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898.
Rules regarding quarantine are also mentioned in the Penal Code 1860. Section 269 talks about ‘Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life’. It states that whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both. Section 270 of the same Act imposes an imprisonment of either description which may extend to two years, or with fine or both.
While the law enforcers have come down to the streets to chase away anyone who came out of their homes, the legislative toolkits must also not be overlooked. Our laws are adequate to be imposed on anyone reluctant to maintain quarantine. At times when all measures fail, the fear of sanction gets priority. Those who do not pay heed to it, must be brought to book.