The world has witnessed several pandemics disrupting our daily life but none of them matched the disruption and damage caused by Covid-19.
When coronavirus first break out in Wuhan, countries failed to prevent the spread of the virus.
No pandemic prior to Covid-19 had such global impact and did not transmit from nation to nation at the magnitude of Covid-19.
The UK introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020 granting the government unprecedented powers to curb the coronavirus pandemic. It will last for two years but the UK government agreed that Parliament should debate and vote on the act every six months.
The Indian government has invoked several enactments to handle the impact of Covid-19 on law enforcement, handling the economy, etc. For example, the Central government has invoked the provisions of Epidemic Act, 1897 and National Disaster Management Act, 2005 to fight with side effects of Covid-19. Different States are invoking similar laws with situations arising therein as well.
However, application of these enactments has had limited impact and benefits; governments have been found falling short on coming up with adequate action plan to handle with the coronavirus crisis as these laws are either outdated and / or designed to cope up with disasters of small magnitude.
For example, invoking of Section 144 to elude mass gatherings has made things worse as such action turned health/economic sensitive issue into a law and order problem. The application of these acts is aimed at confining people behind closed doors like in war times rather than addressing the core issue (prevention of spreading Covid-19).
This situation has arisen in absence of a special law or protocol to deal with unforeseen pandemics like Covid-19. Better coordination between countries could have saved millions of people.
Most lockdowns that were implemented didn't find the balance between saving lives from Covid-19, and allowing people the hard won freedoms that are the framework for those lives.
Lack of specific law in place to deal with any kind of pandemic has resulted in at times ad hoc and irrational decisions which has in turn caused insurmountable economic, physical and psychological damage to almost every section of Indian society.
A global law to handle unforeseen pandemics would have enabled governments to handle the side effects of coronavirus in a much better way while ensuring minimal damage to citizens and the economy.
The action of lockdown has resulted in tug of war amid police forces and citizens in the United States as a consequence any kind of public movement by general public beyond certain timings and places is treated as violation of law.
Many people from the general public (especially migrant workers) got locked up in jail as criminals or confined to isolation chambers for attempting to go to their home place or for any other urgent life threatening purpose beyond permitted timings and places. Recently only, countries have asked to withdraw such cases.
A specific pandemic centric law would have established a dedicated set of rules and plan of action to handle critical and sensitive issues in an effective way and avoid unnecessary conflict of interest and chaos amid government and general public.
Further such a special law would have clearly demarcated powers amid central, state and local authorities in times of crisis like Covid-19 and it would have ensured much better administration and handling of critical and sensitive issues.
A special pandemic law may not completely eliminate impact of havoc created by crisis like Covid-19 but such law would definitely reduce the magnitude of economic, social and health damage to a great deal.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had established International Health Regulations (IHR) in 2005 as a solution to mitigate the greater risks associated with such pandemics. The idea of IHR is to mandate all signatories to create and implement a dedicated law or protocol in place to be ready to deal with economic, social and health risks associated with outbreak of pandemics.
India is a signatory to IHR but it has not developed a unique pandemic law to deal with unforeseen pandemics. Almost all signatories of IHR have collectively failed to develop a effective pandemic law.
Covid-19 has demonstrated that more or less, no country has developed a comprehensive pandemic law or protocol which will have real time application to mitigate challenges and risks born out of pandemics.
Covid-19 may not be the last pandemic but unprecedented in its reach and impact so far – It is time for nations to learn from this crisis to develop a pandemic centric law and protocol to deal with dynamic and real time applicability rather than just a piece of paper.
In the absence of unique and dedicated pandemic law and protocol, India would again have to go through same sort of hardships experiencing in current days due to Covid19 on outbreak of any new pandemic in future.
The new global pandemic rules and regulations require regular and constructive scrutiny or history may repeat itself.
Bhumesh is the Managing Partner of Corp Comm Legal, an Indian law firm. He is ranked among the Top 100 Indian corporate lawyers. He is advising domestic and foreign companies on M&A, joint ventures, corporate - commercial issues. Besides, he has written a book on Drafting of Commercial Agreements, has a couple of books in pipeline and trains students and professionals on Drafting Skills and corporate laws. He writes regularly on legal, business & other issues and is a guest faculty lecturer with educational institutes. Bhumesh holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Delhi and a further qualification in International Law and Legal Studies from College of Law, York.