Penalties for violating the quarantine, effective or harsh?
October 3, 2020 0

Fines, imprisonment and publicizing names… are these fair or harsh measures to deal with quarantine violators?

Fines, imprisonment and publicity of names are some of the penalties for violators of quarantine or isolation of travelers coming from abroad or even of those who got in contact with people infected with Covid19 virus.

Quarantine is considered one of the most important options for countries to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Historically, the most dangerous diseases have been dealt with by isolating the areas that suffer from the disease from the rest to cut off the chain of infection and thus save more lives. Zhong Nanshan, official of the National Health Commission of China stated that quarantine is the most effective way to stop the virus, after which tens of millions of Chinese have been isolated to be the largest quarantine witnessed by humanity at the beginning of the crisis.[1]

The law in many countries states clear provisions for the punishment imposed on those who violate the quarantine imposed by the concerned authorities. Therefore, an important question that was previously asked appears again during the spread of the Corona pandemic. This question is about the morality of isolation as an option for the state, and about the feasibility of punishing citizens of countries with fines up to $1,000 and imprisonment for a period not exceeding a year, or both punishments according to US law, for example.[2]

Many countries are now seeking to deal with thousands of existing and potential violations of quarantine rules, and the demands of health officials to take more measures to ensure that people returning from abroad abide by these laws, especially with an expected increase in cases in more than one country, including the United Kingdom, after warnings that the country is on the verge of a second wave of the outbreak.[3]

Returning to the ethical concerns of quarantine, specifically with the recent updates around the world and attempts to coexist with the virus and return to normal life, so we are going to raise the following question:

Are the penalties imposed for violating the quarantine measures useful or harsh?

Before discussing the arguments that mainly defend strict penalties for those violators, we must draw attention to the fact that supporters of these sanctions see that countries have the right to impose quarantine on their citizens, as they see these sanctions a basic deterrent to reduce the problem. They also believe that sanctions are useful to reach a better outcome for the society in which we live. In order to answer the question, we will explain below the moral justification of punishment and whether it is an effective solution.

Arguments in favor of imposing such measures to deal with violators

Saving lives is the most important moral justification for imposing sanctions

Penalties imposed by the state are considered to be in the interest of citizens, as the moral right of the state to impose quarantine first came from several aspects according to Ross Absher’s proposal[4] on standard principles for cases in which quarantine measures are necessary and justified:

  • There is a clear and subject-to-increase risk of spread of infection among people if it is not deterred. Restricting the freedom of individuals cannot be justified unless it is proven that their freedom will harm others.
  • Taking into account the principle of proportionality or the least means that may hinder or restrict individual mobility in proportion to the goal of achieving disease control. This decision should be studied before being implemented.
  • The principle of reciprocity, which obliges individuals to obey the law in exchange for providing them with their basic needs and protection.
  • The principle of transparency, which states that public health authorities are obliged to clarify the justifications for actions, penalties, and renewal or appeal thereon, in addition to involving all business owners affected by public health measures in the decision-making process, provided that it is clear.

We find that if the state fulfills the above-mentioned conditions, the moral justification for the quarantine is clear and justified, and the penalties imposed on those who violate the quarantine will be justified for any reason whatsoever. Belief in the necessity of this decision justifies the authorities’ punishment in the event that members of society do not comply with its implementation. Consequently, the necessity for strictness in setting penalties to ensure that the disease is not transmitted, especially after proving the harm that Covid19 causes on societies. This harm might be from the loss of many lives as a result of the spread of infection. Therefore, the punishment here falls on the offenders who are not aware of the damage as a result of their movement and thus bear the responsibility of spreading the epidemic more among individuals and causing general harm to society.

Effectiveness of punishment for overcoming the crisis

The state undoubtedly imposes penalties for what it deems appropriate with the current events and developments. Therefore, it is the responsibility of society members, especially during returning to schools and work and trying to return to normal life, to exercise caution and toughening on those who make the situation more difficult. Tough as penalties are, they are an important step to obtain satisfactory results to overcome the crisis with the least losses. This is since most of the countries that have put strict laws and updated their sanctions list, their results in counting the disease were much less than before. Catherine Knox, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Leeds and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said: “We are at a stage where there is a risk of increasing the transmission of the Covid virus again. The transmission depends on the amount of contact between people, and with the return of schools, universities, and the return of many people to work are likely to have an increased level of interactions in communities.” Accordingly, they dealt with thousands of outlaws regarding quarantine.[5]

As the Cebu City government – Philippines, announced that it hopes to reduce the number of infections with Coronavirus by continuing to implement stricter laws for violators. They have imposed strict fines of up to 1500 pounds for violators of quarantine protocols in the city, and the possibility of imprisoning the violators for a period of up to 30 days depending on the gravity of violation. What has been done by the individual since mid-August, and the government announced that with the continuation of restrictions, general quarantine and the implementation of penalties, the daily number of Corona cases has greatly decreased than before, and the government supports strict sanctions decisions to maintain the registration of the lowest percentage of patients in the coming months.[6]

Moving to those who oppose the penalties imposed on those who violate the quarantine, the main principle is to support personal freedom and that the state does not have the right to exploit laws in accordance with its interests, and by proving that sanctions are not the best solution and are ineffective in order to achieve satisfactory result. To answer the question, we will then clarify that punishment will not solve the crisis and it will make matters worse for societies.

Arguments against implementing such measures

Punishment is not the best solution

Quarantine is one of the solutions proposed to overcome the crisis, but it is not the only one, and it is not necessarily flawless. Therefore, by proving that quarantine is a solution that will not lead to a good result; penalties would be deemed unfair to individuals. Many members of the British Parliament in the House of Commons raised real concerns about the government’s approach to quarantine. They expressed that sanctions policy that was imposed was introduced too late and that the government is overreacting because it is trying to avoid a new wave of the virus. They also expressed their desire to introduce better suggestions, as the government’s level of verification of individuals’ commitment to quarantine is less than 1%, so decisions are ineffective and the disease is still spreading.[7]

Although modes of transmission of most infectious diseases are known to healthcare professionals, there has been an increase in the use of population-based strategies, contact tracing and isolation, as previously occurred in TB. However, there are some situations that threaten the population, and therein lies the need to devise comprehensive and broader public health strategies in countries. Quarantine is one of the elements of fighting infectious diseases, which was not used by all countries in the Covid19 crisis, and which is unlikely to be the only effective way to control the spread of the disease.[8]

Efficacy of penalties in stopping the spread of the disease

It can be considered that the penalties for quarantine violators are unfair if it is proved that the situation will worsen. This comes from several aspects, including the sudden mitigating decisions that European countries made for the return of life and coexistence with the disease, and these decisions come after the great losses of airlines and other sectors from tourism, export and manufacturing.

Travel sector has expressed widespread criticism about quarantine rules imposed by the government, warning that the period of self-isolation will affect the decisions of visitors and pose a threat to jobs. Some airlines have filed lawsuits, which are in their early stages, against the British government. Manufacturing sector joined critics of these measures, suggesting that the small number of flights will limit the movement of exports and imports, which would have a negative impact on the shipping sector.[9]

We see here that countries that seriously impose penalties to reduce the outbreak of the disease may change their minds as a result of pressures threatening their economy, which makes sanctions arbitrary before there is a real solution to overcome the crisis and limit the number of infected people. This would make countries search for more effective solutions.

The exploitation of countries to quarantine laws comes from some biased dealings and ill-treatment that do not lead to limiting the spread of the virus. If penalties were imposed for violators who broke the curfew, some authorities deal with violators in ways that violate rights and do not work in the interest of limiting the spread of the disease, which makes sanctions unfair to individuals and increase doubts about the seriousness of the decisions made regarding dealing with Covid19 virus.

Human Rights Watch announced a human rights document last March, urging authorities to protect the violators, after the Philippine authorities detained hundreds of quarantine violators in small cells, which increased the spread and transmission of the virus among them.[10]

In this regard, the quarantine imposed on a Chinese citizen in 1900 was canceled by the Federal Court in the United States because it was motivated by racism and deemed inappropriate to stop the outbreak of the disease during the outbreak of bubonic plague, then the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States clarified that people whose rights are affected by the quarantine order have the right to request a judicial review and to reject the penalties imposed on them.[11]

Hence, sanctions might open the door for the government to oppress individuals and forget the main goal of legalizing such laws that would change according to the circumstances and pressures faced by countries and prove that they have relatively failed by making the situation worse.

By: Nadia Darwish – Debate Instructor at QatarDebate




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