Bihar declares COVID-19 epidemic, invokes British-era law
The Bihar government on Tuesday declared the novel coronavirus COVID-19 an “epidemic disease” and issued The Bihar Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulation, 2020.
By doing so, Bihar joined Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh in declaring COVID-19 as epidemic.
The regulation will give legal powers to government officials to conduct mass screenings of suspected patients, including forcible isolation, sealing of any geographical area and take punitive action against those hiding symptoms of the virus or spreading misinformation.
In Bihar, 311 suspected cases have been reported to date but none has tested positive. There has been no death either even as districts along the Indo-Nepal border have been put on high alert and all schools/colleges closed till March 31. Special screening is being done for passengers coming to Bihar by flight and trains from other states.
The Bihar Epidemic Diseases, COVID 19 Regulation 2020 has been issued by invoking section 2, 3 and 4 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which came into force on Tuesday with the notification issued by the health department.
Principal secretary (health) Sanjay Kumar said the regulation had been brought in with the objectives of providing legal cover to officials, including DMs, in taking appropriate measures to contain the spread of the virus and also encourage social distancing among people to check the virus.
“The purpose of the regulation is to provide legal powers to officials to take immediate measures for containing the spread of the outbreak wherever necessary like sealing of malls, cinema halls or other public places or say vehicular traffic in any given area,” Kumar said.
Under the provisions of the regulation, all government and private hospitals in the state should have Flu corners for screening of suspected COVID-19 cases and all hospitals will record the travel history of the travel of any person if he/she has travelled to any country or area where COVID-19 has been reported. Those persons having travelled to a country where outbreak of COVID-19 has been reported after February 29, 2020, but have no symptoms of cough, fever, breathing difficulty should quarantine themselves at home.
The regulation has underlined that in case of any report of cases of COVID-19 in any defined geographical area falling in a particular district, the DM of the district concerned is empowered to seal the area, barring entry and exit of population from the containment area, closure of schools, offices and banning of public gatherings and also banning of vehicular movement.
Another highlight of the regulation is empowering the DM to initiate coercive action against any person considered suspected/confirmed of COVID-19 in case the patient refuses to take measures for prevention or treatment like home quarantine/ institutional quarantine/ isolation.
Moreover, surveillance officers, on getting information about suspected cases of COVID-19 and there is belief he/she presence in a premise is hazardous to public health, would be empowered to enter such premises after giving reasonable opportunity to the occupier and also carry tests of the suspected patient.
The regulation has also provisioned that any person/ institution/organisation found spreading misinformation regarding COVID1-9 through print, electronic or social media would be booked.
Significantly, the principal secretary, health maintained the regulation would be valid for one year but could be withdrawn earlier after reviewing the situation in the state.
What it means
Mass screenings of suspected patients
Forcible isolation if needed
Sealing of any geographical area
Punitive action against those hiding symptoms
Punitive action for spreading misinformation.