The government included the novel coronavirus as a contagious disease at the end of March although the Who had declared the Covid-19 pandemic two months earlier
The communicable diseases act is not being enforced properly although it came into effect in 2018. As per the law, if anyone catches a contagious disease and hides information on his being infected, there is a provision of punishment but no implementation of it has been seen yet.
Only the health directorate has jurisdiction to take a tough decision during an epidemic, according to the law.
Many people are not complying with the government's order of staying indoors at this time of the coronavirus pandemic. Many others have taken treatment by moving from one hospital to another, concealing their Covid-19 like symptoms.
Besides, the government has no initiative to raise public awareness on the communicable diseases act.
According to the Communicable Diseases (Prevention, Control and Eradication) Act 2018, if an infected person negligently infects others, he/she will be sentenced to up to six months of imprisonment or will be fined Tk1 lakh or both. And if one gives false information on one's infection, one will get two months in jail or a fine of Tk25,000 or both.
If a patient is deprived of treatment, he or she can go for legal action.
Legal experts have expressed their dissatisfaction over the law not being enforced properly.
Human rights worker and Supreme Court lawyer Sara Hossain told The Business Standard that the Bangladesh government showed not a care about Covid-19 when it spread all over the world.
Following a directive made by the Supreme Court, the government incorporated the life-threatening coronavirus in the list of contagious diseases towards the end of March, although the World Health Organisation had declared the coronavirus as a global pandemic two months before that, she added.
Announcements of lockdowns in different localities are not being made in timely manner as per the law. Besides, no one is being brought to book in line with the law. As a result, the disease is getting a lot of opportunities to break out to more areas, Sara Hossain pointed out.
The health directorate has been given a lot of powers to prevent a contagious disease under the communicable diseases act. It can take any legal action by applying those powers.
Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said in fact coronavirus spread in whatever way it could across the country in March. Now, it is transmitting. The government declared the disease as a contagious one only when it began to spread on a massive scale.
Now, the question arises about the punishment as per the law for spreading the disease. That is because no one can be punished with retrospective effect of a law as per the constitution.
Therefore, the government cannot easily bring anyone under punishment. So, what is happening now is supposed to happen.
Jyotirmoy Barua said if the government can still implement the law properly, it is possible to have some respite from the coronavirus spread.
Director General of Health Services Prof Dr Abul Kalam Azad told The Business Standard that there is an advisory committee led by the health minister as per the communicable diseases act. The suggestions they provide to stem the coronavirus spread are being sent to the health ministry, the home ministry, the public administration ministry and others concerned. They all are working accordingly, he added.
Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam said the health directorate ignored even some days ago what they are doing now.
They are also failing to give proper directives on many occasions. And the ministries concerned cannot also fully implement the directives of the health directorate.
Public Administration Secretary Shaikh Yusuf Harun told The Business Standard that the local administration has been implementing the government's directives. The deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers are playing leading roles in the implementation process.
Former law minister Shafique Ahmed said if there is any patient infected with a contagious disease in a locality, the physician of that area is bound to attend to the patient. And he will also inform the civil surgeon of that district. If anyone is deprived of treatment, he/she will go for legal action.
The government has decided to enforce the law only by conducting mobile courts. But, common people will be able to file lawsuits with courts under the communicable diseases act.
Besides, initiatives have to be taken to make people aware of this law so that they can take recourse to legal means in the event of necessity.