Justice chancellor: NETS definitions unprecise and role of agencies unclear
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise has found numerous imprecisions in the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (NETS) bill currently going through its second reading in the Riigikogu. The justice chancellor points to the broad definition of a communicable disease and the living conditions of people ordered to quarantine.
The justice chancellor found that the concept of a novel dangerous communicable disease will be replaced with a considerably broader concept that could basically cover all seasonal viral infections.
The new definition classifies as dangerous infectious diseases both new communicable diseases for which not enough data exists, as well as the reemergence of well-known communicable diseases against which vaccines and treatments exist and that do not cause massive illness.
Definitions used in the text, such as quarantine, suspicion of infection and epidemic, are not universally understandable and used in different meanings that creates confusion, Madise found.
For example, the bill provides that quarantine is a measure applied in the conditions of epidemic spread of dangerous or acutely dangerous communicable diseases according to which diagnosed persons or those suspected of carrying the disease are ordered to remain at their residence.
Madise explained that in international law practice, quarantine stands for restricting the actions of or isolating an uninfected person from others for the purpose of limiting the spread of the disease. Limiting the activities of a person who has already been infected is generally understood as isolation, which the law does not define.
"We are dealing with a fundamental difference where "quarantine" is usually ordered in the middle of the disease's incubation period and "isolation" until the person's diagnosis is changed or the person recovers," Madise noted.
The justice chancellor commended the introduction of the quarantine term in the law but described the regulation as insufficient. "Based on the bill, the quarantine period could last for 30 days and longer in some cases," she found.
The justice chancellor also believed the draft legislation does not do enough to specify the role and responsibility of agencies.
Because a person can be ordered to quarantine under pain of pecuniary punishment, it constitutes an intensive restriction of liberty. At the same time, Madise pointed out that people's living conditions are different and the state must assume responsibility for compliance with the principles of human dignity and the availability of essential goods.
For example, local governments cannot be tasked with taking people food and medicines because there is no legislation to that effect.
"In a situation where a person's dwelling is small or dark and where they cannot sensibly go outside, being confined to such conditions for extended periods of time is a mental health hazard. Furthermore, a person who shares a bathroom or toilet with other residents of an apartment building or lives in a wood-heated apartment might find themselves in a situation where adhering to quarantine has been made too difficult for the need to avoid other residents in the hallway," the justice chancellor remarked.
Madise also noted that local governments only offer homeless people shelter in the evenings and at night at which time people are confined to the same room and cannot isolate.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski