MRU Experts on COVID-19

2020-03-31 00:00:01

Dr. Novikovas: Legal Means Exist to Force People Returning from Abroad to Isolate

novikovasandrejus Currently there are efforts underway to find ways to assure that people returning from abroad would adhere to quarantine rules.

Forced isolation of those returning from abroad in hotels for a 14-day period is a strict measure and to many of those isolated not acceptable. Due to such a practice, conflicts arise among isolated persons and also among the isolated and officers. As a result, institutions responsible for safety must perform functions not necessarily part of their duties. For example, police must ensure the safety of isolated persons and in such cases, there is less attention focused on perfoming duties they are directly resposible for. Such a practice was implemented after institutions were not capable of assuring the proper self-isolation of persons returning from abroad. From the day that the quarantine was implemented – March 16th, the media daily reports that police or other public administrative institutions have received hundreds of complaints about persons who have returned from abroad, but are not isolating for the 14-day period. These persons appear in public places and therefore pose a threat to others, but there were no actual actions taken to punish such persons and impose administrative penalties.

The Code of Administrative Offenses stipulates that there is administrative liability for violations of European Union regulations or decisions in the area of public health, hygiene or other legal acts related to public health and the Law on the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases of the Republic of Lithuania. Accordingly, this Code provides for liability for non-implementation or untimely execution of decisions of Municipal Councils or Orders of Directors of Municipal administrations regarding the fight against outbreaks and epidemics of infectious diseases.

Case law on prosecuting persons according to the above mentioned articles is not extensive. But in many cases, when the composition of the offense is considered formal, it is sufficient to establish the fact that the legal provisions have been violated.

Therefore, in order to prosecute a person for violations foreseen in the Code of Administrative Offenses 45th-46th Articles, it is sufficient to record their unlawful activity. According to the aforementioned Articles, persons who have returned from abroad and who do not adhere to quarantine rules requiring self-isolation of 14 days can be held liable.

The helplessness of institutions and inability to take action against such persons and to force them to remain at home appears strange. Actually a decision how to “convince”such persons to remain at home is a lot simpler than it looks and does not require much effort or time or human resources. The main issue is that there are no means to prove such a person’s, who has to isolate for a 14-day period, illegal activity – that he is appearing in a public place. Police and other institutions have already formulated the practice of liability accordingly after having received photographs or filmed material from mobil telephones or car viewer registration systems.

Also, neighbors or other persons who are aware that a person has returned from abroad and is not self-isolating for the 14 day period, as required, can photography and send the photos to the appropriate institutions.

The relevant authorities, having received information about the appearance of such persons in public places, should contact the State Border Guard Service to find out, if such a person has truly returned from abroad and when he entered Lithuanian territory. If the time period from the moment, when the person entered Lithuanian territory and the violation moment (indicated by photos) is shorter than 14 days, then we can consider that the person violated the 14-day self-isolation period and can be held liable for administrative violations. However, the liability for self-isolation rule violations is not a means to punish a person returning from abroad. The main aim is to safeguard other persons and to show those returning from abroad that the situation is very serious and institutions will not tolerate such violations and will respond in a very strict manner.

Application of administrative fines is one of the most effective means to achieve these aims. That is why publication of depersonalized punishments in the public domain, in the media, would have a sig-nificant preventive effect on other persons, who must adhere to self-isolation. Aside from this, an-nouncement and dissemination of information in public (in apt. stairways, stores, stations, etc.) about the violations of persons who have returned from abroad, would in turn deter such persons from ap-pearing in public places. They would be aware of the negative consequences.

Andrejus Novikovas is an Associate Professor of Law at Mykolas Romeris University’s Institute of Public Law