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The sagacity of law to combat COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 globally, or new coronaviruses, has led to a rare, perhaps unprecedented, death of close to 2300 globally. In India, after Janta Curfew, at least 650 people have been affected by COVID-19  so far. The novel coronavirus has challenged the potential of public healthcare systems to the helve and the World Health Organization on 11, March 2020 declared it an epidemic.

Simultaneously, in India, a high-level group of ministers reviewed the current status and took actions to prevent the spread of the virus. As an action on 25 March, they lock down the whole country for 21 days. And he empowered from that implement the provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which issues legally enforceable advice by the Ministry of Health Welfare / State / UT". Besides, the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 were callon this as a disaster.

It is grave to unpack these current legal developments and understand the full scope of state action to deal with novel coronaviruses.

Interpreting the combined practice of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Through the interpretation of these two acts, we could understand how the government of the country is able to lock down the whole country, how the government of different states is to authorize seals their border in an attempt to suppress the movement of people across the state and restrict the transmission of COVID-19.

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, is the nodal law concerning 'dangerous epidemic diseases'.
It sanctions state governments and the central government to embrace any measures to prevent the outbreak of a dangerous disease if confirmed as an epidemic.

Section 2A of the Act allows the Central Government to take any measures and specify rules for any vessel or ship to leave or arrive at any port or to prevent any person from coming or going on such vessel or ship. 

Violations of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, invite punishment under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

However, even as the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the Central and State Governments are empowered, it lacks provisions that enable them to hastily establish the framework management systems required for a coordinated and concerted response. It has also been criticized for not moving fast and not for contemporary health challenges.

Given this, the Government has executed the Disaster Management Act, 2005, as it provides a complete administrative system for disaster preparedness. Accordingly, on 11 March the Union Home Secretary, who is the chairman of the National Executive Committee under the Act, delegated his powers to the Secretary, Ministry of Health and Welfare.

While emerging these two Acts is innovative, a more comprehensive way to deal with such situations in the future would be to recreate and strengthen the Epidemic Diseases Act. For example, an important modification may be to introduce standards through which 'dangerous pandemic disease' is routinely defined. Identification would be globally affected by such standardization such as COVID-19 domestically. This allows for a more topical response, especially given that it was only on Wednesday that the Indian government identified it as a dangerous epidemic disease, taking several steps.

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