“Prevention is a whole lot less costly than treatment, and maybe more effective”
– Debbie Adair
The year 2020 brings with it one of the biggest crises facing modern era, the spread of COVID 19 all across the globe. The World Health Organisation has already declared it as a global pandemic. Several countries like India have imposed measures in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which brings with it the obligations of COVID19 infected patients. Preventive measures like Identifying and quarantining the suspected cases and setting up the robust system for testing has helped overcoming the outbreak of epidemic as it has been illustrated by countries like South Korea. The only way to combat the spread of virus is through care and caution taken by infected patients and recovering without further extending the spread of virus.
Therefore, in light of the rising cases, the author will endeavour to critically examine the emerging obligations of COVID19 infected patients by dividing this blog into three parts, in first part we will go through the legal obligations of a infected patient which will be followed by the need of a new law and its proper implementation. Secondly, we will see the social obligations of an infected patient followed by the conclusion. The focus of Author while delving into the requisite legal obligations will be in context of India only.
There are several laws In India under which a person infected by the coronavirus can be sanctioned and if found violating these laws, appropriate penal measures can be imposed. The most important provision being Section 271 of IPC, it provides for the Disobedience of quarantine rules. Under this Section if a person is found violating quarantine rules imposed upon him by the public health authorities and escapes from such quarantine then he can be charged under this section. The section provides for a maximum punishment of six years or fine or both.
Thereafter, the person can also be charged for any sort of negligence or malignant act likely to spread the disease. The provisions containing them are Section 269 of IPC, providing for negligent act likely to spread infection of the disease and Section 270 of IPC, provides for Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease. The difference between the two section is that the act done in the former section should be with done with an evil intention and knowledge of harm. The punishment imposed in both the section is imprisonment extending to two years or fine or both.
Added to that, Section 188 of IPC provides for punishment if act of a person is found to be in violation of order duly promulgated by a public officer. This section particularly includes disobedience causing danger to human life, health or safety. This section is cognizable and several people have been booked in this section for violating the lockdown. Also, a renowned Indian singer is booked by the Lucknow police under Section 188, 269 and 270 of IPC, for allegedly attending events and coming in contact with several persons. She was later tested positive for the virus due to her foreign visit and was in violation of order (ignoring under self-isolation orders).
However, the provisions enlisted above along with the provisions of Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Disease Act are insufficient in addressing the issues relating to social distancing. There is no framework in law which provides for the health care requirements of the infected persons. No punishments or fines have been prescribed under any law for providing false details on travel history or for adversely affecting the processes of contact tracing by not disclosing the correct information. Also, the states are framing orders under Section 188 one after another without considering their legal obligations. The are still several hindrances in convicting the infected persons who violate the legal provisions, Hence the punishment provided for in the legislations remains unused and dormant. In addition to a potential criminal prosecution, arguably there is a common law duty of candour on part of infected patient to disclose the disease.
Although India has an Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 but this act has proved to be inadequate in combating the public emergencies. This one page and four section long Act is ill-equipped to deal with the patients suffering from coronavirus pandemic. Nations such as Canada, England and Australia over the years have enacted the holistic laws to deal with the public health emergencies. Like in Australia the National Health Security Act, 2007 puts obligation on the infected patients to provide with the required coordination to provincial and governmental authorities. Therefore, India should not rely on the limited laws that are available but the focus should be on building a structure like in Australia and other countries having robust legal setup.
The only known method of transmission of this virus is, face-to-face via infected droplets sneezed or coughed out by a patient. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that “When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus”. Therefore, it is quintessential for the person who is infected to isolate himself from rest of the world and go through medical treatment. Added to that, it becomes his extended obligation to give the information about the people who have came into the direct contact of infected person. This will further help in combating the community spread of the virus and hence saving numerous others as one infected patient can further transmit the disease to 406 others in just 30 days, as per recent study of ICMR.
Notably, it also becomes the obligation of the infected patients to keep themselves in quarantine for next fourteen days after recovery. It becomes certainly more important in light of recovered patients again getting infected from the virus in South Korea. Hence, it can be said that there arises plenty of social obligations which an infected patient has to take into consideration as any fault on his behalf will lead to rise in pandemic.
Lastly, it would of great help if patients uphold the four principles given in book by Beauchamp and Childress, ‘Principles of Biomedical Ethics’ in order to protect themselves from liability for negligence. The four basic principles are autonomy (right to control one’s body), beneficence (what may be good for one may not be good for others), non-maleficence (do no harm) and justice (being as fair as possible).
The abovementioned legal and social obligations show that a person infected from coronavirus is entangled with the legal and social obligations and any negligence on his part will have negative consequences to his surroundings. Also, extended support is required from the public authorities to properly implement the provisions of law and ensure the safety, privacy and health of infected patients. Finally, these are tough times which requires the mutual cooperation of entire community to combat the spread to coronavirus in best possible manner.
“… it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities