COVID-19 has been designated as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). The COVID-19 coronavirus has already affected 196 countries and territories all over the world and has thus become a pandemic emergency. According to WHO, the outrageous virus has already affected more than 375,498 people worldwide, causing fatality to more than 16,362 people until today.
All over the world, there are specific guidelines and legal provisions which give power to certain public bodies and local authorities to carry out activities that may be necessary to raise social awareness and to make such rules and regulations which are necessary to reduce or prevent the outbreak of such a disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has certain guidelines on International Health Regulations and Epidemic Control and has, particularly, provided specific guidelines on "Protective Measures" for persons who are in or have recently visited, in the past 14 days, areas where COVID-19 is spreading, which are:
Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slightly runny nose, until you recover. Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from possible COVID-19 and other viral infections.
If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call in advance and tell your provider of any recent travel or contact with travellers. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health care facility. This will also help to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.
In addition to the safety and hygiene precautions, which everyone is strongly advised to follow, as citizens of the country it is our moral duty and legal obligation to abide by the relevant rules and regulations which are announced by the legal officials.
As part of the safety precautions, 'social distancing' or 'isolation' is important during this time by not becoming exposed to any germs of the disease or anyone likely to be infected with the virus.
The core law in Bangladesh concerning pandemic diseases is the Bangladesh Penal Code, 1860 (Act No. 45 of 1860).
People or citizens who have entered into Bangladesh from overseas countries and have been placed under a mandatory 'home-quarantine' – meaning to separate and restrict the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick – must maintain that very strictly.
The violation of the penal code – that is not observing the quarantine, social distancing, or isolation – would not only lead to the commission of a punishable criminal offence, it would also increase his/her own chances of getting infected as well as increase the chance of others becoming infected.
Many people may not realise the catastrophically swift rate at which such a deadly virus spreads. A person who does not maintain 'social distance' or 'isolation', as announced and warned by the government as well as media, is likely to be a "super- spreader."
If that person gets infected with the disease and negligently infects others whom he/she meets individually, or, even worse, in a group or crowd before even the symptoms of the disease show.
It is an offence under Section 269 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, 1860, when someone acts negligently in a way which is likely to spread the infection of any disease which is dangerous to life.
The penal code clearly indicates at diseases such as the COVID-19, punishable with imprisonment up to six months or with fine or both.
Even though during such a period it would be difficult yet necessary for law enforcers to identify and inquire immediately into such violations against such "super-spreaders", they would be risking their own lives as well as others' by not following the government and social announcements.
Moreover, it is also an offence under Section 271 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, 1860, to disobey the quarantine rule which has been placed on people who have entered into Bangladesh from abroad. Violation of such an offence is punishable with imprisonment for up to six months or with fine or both.
However, on a moral perspective, instead of making it necessary for the law enforcement to take legal actions against us, we should perform our duty as responsible and cautious citizens, strictly maintain 'social distancing' as much as possible until the threat of the disease comes under control.
During these dark days of one of the most threatening pandemics in the history of the world, we need to stay safe and raise awareness among our family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and as many other people as possible.
If any symptoms of COVID-19 starts to show in anyone and appears to be aggravating rapidly, it is essential to immediately contact the hotline numbers of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) which is currently carrying out tests for detecting COVID-19 cases among people throughout Bangladesh.
Matt Hancock, UK's health secretary, said, "Coronavirus is the biggest public health crisis we have faced in a generation. Combating this virus will require a national effort – we all have a role to play to slow its spread and protect ourselves including the elderly and the vulnerable."
Echoing Hancock, it can undoubtedly be stated that it is not only the responsibility of the government and public authorities but also ours' – the citizens. If we can all responsibly carry out our part in dealing with the current global health threat, we can overcome this difficulty more swiftly and effectively without having to sacrifice more lives.
The author is Barrister-at-Law (Lincoln's Inn), Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Associate, M. Qumrul Haque Siddique & Associates