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Delhi Govt Exercises Powers Under Epidemic Diseases Act to Battle Coronavirus

Delhi Govt Exercises Powers Under Epidemic Diseases Act to Battle Coronavirus

New Delhi: The Delhi government has issued regulations to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic on Friday. All hospitals have been directed to set up special flu corners to screen and test patients with suspected coronavirus.

The hospitals have also been asked to take note of whether the person with symptoms has travelled to coronavirus-affected countries or areas, or come in contact with any infected persons. If such a history is reported, the person must be tested immediately and kept in isolation. “Information of all such cases should be given to office of CDMO [chief district medical officer] of the respective District immediately,” the regulations say.

Private laboratories are not authorised to test for coronavirus.

Spreading misinformation about the disease or its spread will be treated as a punishable offence, the regulations say.

“No person/institution/organization will use any print or electronic media for information regarding COVID-19 without prior permission of the Department of Health & Family Welfare, Govt of NCT of Delhi. This is to avoid spread of any rumour or unauthenticated information regarding COVID-19.”

If authorities have sufficient reason to believe that a person has COVID-19, “surveillance personnel” can enter private premises “for the purpose of surveillance of instances of fever or cough or respiratory difficulty, enquire into or undertake physical examination, as he/she thinks fit, and such person(s) shall be bound to cooperate and render all possible assistance to facilitate such surveillance, inspection, enquiry and examination”.

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If people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 refuse to cooperate, the authorities can take action under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (under which a magistrate can pass a “conditional order for removal of nuisance”, the regulations say.

Containment measures have also been listed, in case multiple patients are reported from a defined area. These include sealing the area, closing schools and cancelling public gatherings, designation a government building for isolation, etc.

Violating the provisions listed can invite a penalty, the Delhi government has noted. They will be charged under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant).

On Wednesday, the Union cabinet had empowered states to take actions of the kind the Delhi government is taking. Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 was invoked for this. “It was decided that all States and Union Territories should be advised by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to invoke provisions of Section 2 of Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 so that all advisories being issued from time to time by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare/State/UTs are enforceable,” the Union health ministry said in a statement.

The Act in question has been criticised in the past for being draconian, as it allows widespread state surveillance.

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