Coronavirus and State’s Authority to Protect Public Health from Legal Perspective
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The new advanced Covid (“Covid- 19”) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. According to the World Health Organisation (“WHO”) Covid is zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Number of people who got infected with Covid-19 is largely increasing every minute throughout the universe. According to the official statistics, the current number of countries that reported Covid-19 is now more than 50 countries, most of these countries are located in Asia and it is expected that this number may be increased throughout the upcoming days.
Covid-19 in Qatar
Qatar has reported recently the first seven Covid-19 cases. Ministry of Public Health (“MPH”) expects that this number may be increased due to the pandemic effect of Covid-19 unless precautionary measures are taken to reduce the risk of proliferating the cluster of Covid-19 in Qatar through protecting the public health.
Precautionary Measures Taken by the Concerned Authorities in Qatar to stop spreading the Covid-19
Social Media Campaign
As a rapid and responsible reaction to contain the spread of the infection, the State of Qatar represented by MPH launched a public awareness campaign to aware people of Covid-19 and appropriate recommended measures to contain its spread in the country. This is represented in the regular and up to date posts and tweets on social media and on TV and Radio to make all people aware of what they should do.
Stop Receiving travelers from Certain Destination and increasing the Monitoring Role at the Airport
Moreover, the State of Qatar represented by the Civil Aviation Authority issued Circular No. (8/2020) to temporarily ban travelers from Egypt (either holding Egyptian nationality
or holding other citizenship) to enter Qatar for related public health concerns since some cases have been reported for infected persons who traveled from Egypt. This is in addition to the State’s decision to quarantine the infected personnel.
In addition to the above, the Office of the Minister of Public Health notified the officials at Hamad International Airport of the relevant measures that need to be taken by the officials at the said airport. These measures include the following:
- 1. Travelers who come from the following destinations/countries will be quarantined for 14 days until the MPH makes sure that they are free of any Covid disease whether they are normal travelers or citizens of the following countries:
- – China
- – South of Korea
- – Iran
- – Italy
- – Egypt
- 2. Travelers who come from the following destinations/ countries will only be inspected by the MPH to make sure they are free of Covid-19. If they are infected, they will be quarantined by the MPH:
- – Hong Kong
- – Japan
- – Singapore
Measures at Schools
The MPH also notified schools of the relevant measures that need to be taken because of Covid-19. These measures are as follows:
- – Monitoring MPH’s guidelines related to the Covid-19.
- – Reminding students of proper hygiene practices including hand washing.
- – Increasing the frequency of sanitizing in public areas e.g. reception.
- – Providing additional hand sanitizing gel around campus.
- * Notifying MPH of any suspicious case.
On corporate side – What should be done?
In addition to the public awareness campaign launches by MPH and other concerned authorities in the State, no specific guidelines have been issued/announced with respect to companies specially the appropriate measures that need to be taken by the employer to comply with the law. However, according to Article (3) of Law No. (17) of 1990 regarding the Prevention of Infectious Diseases, the employer/sponsor are requested and legally obliged to report any employee who suffers from any infectious disease works to the nearest health center or hospital.
Moreover, the general guidelines that have been announced by the WHO identified a list of some precautionary measures that need to be taken into consideration by employers. These guidelines include the following:
- – Fixing alcohol- based hand rubs in the workplace and provide IPC and PPE supplies including gloves and masks.
- – Advise employees to postponing any unnecessary business travels.
- – Provide information, instructions and training on occupational safety and health measures.
- – Advise employees on symptom reporting and staying home when ill.
- – Maintain appropriate working hours with break.
Neither the Law No. (17) of 1990 nor the guidelines issued by WHO set a benchmark for employers who retain certain number of employees to comply with the said measures, but it is always advisable to stick to the law and ensure that most of the guidelines are in place regardless the number of employees in the workplace.
Legal Base of the State’s Authority to Take Precautionary Measures in Light of the Applicable Laws
The measures taken by the State of Qatar are characterized as “precautionary measures” to contain the proliferation of the infection of Covid-19 and an application to the State’s absolute authority to protect public health as per the applicable laws. The applicable laws as well as international treaties signed by the State of Qatar give the executive authority the right to take all precautionary measures such as quarantining the infected personnel as well as certain other severe measures such as the right to deport a foreigner for public health concerns.
Consistency with International Treaties
In this respect, Qatar is a signatory state on Marrakesh Protocol regulating the establishment of the World Health Organization, which is adopted by the Emiri Decision dated 2008 which provides
in Article (2) that “The countries are authorised to take all measures to protect the health of human being [—] provided that such measures are consistent with this treaty[–].”
Consistency with National Laws
Not only the international treaties give the State the right to implement measures to protect and safeguard public health and protect its citizens/residents, but also national laws enable the executive authority to take all precautionary measures to contain the spread of an infection and eliminate the risk of viruses and fictious diseases. In this regard, the Law No. (17) of 1990 regarding the Prevention of Infectious Diseases provides in Article (5) “The competent health authority shall, upon receiving a notification of an injury or suspected infectious disease, or reveal the existence of the disease or suspect it, immediately take the measures it deems necessary to avoid its spread.” In addition, the same law provides for the State’s right to quarantine the injured person or the person who is suspected of having an infectious disease as it provides in Article (6) “The competent health authority may isolate the injured or suspected of having an infectious disease in the hospital or the place that it specifies and for the period that it estimates. Or subject him and his contacts to health monitoring.” Moreover, the law gives the competent minister the right to do the following as per Article (14) which reads:
“The Minister shall, upon the proposal of the competent health authority, issue the necessary decisions to regulate the following:
1 – Isolating, controlling or noticing people coming from abroad.
2- Determining the health requirements that must be met for the entry of goods and imported materials into the country.
3 – Determine the necessary preventive measures to prevent the transmission of infection from humans, animals, insects or any other means.”
The State is also entitled to deport any person for public health concerns in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease as per Article (25) of Law No. 21 of 2015 regarding the Entry and Exit of Residences which states “Without prejudice to any other laws, the Minister may issue an order for the deportation of any expatriate who proves that in his presence in the country what threatens its security or safety whether inland or abroad or is harmful to the national economy, public health or morals.”
In light of the above, the State is fully authorised by virtue of international treaties and national laws to fight and prevent/contain the spread of Covid-19 and all measures taken by the State are referenced in laws.
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