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Law Related To Covid 19: Legal Framework Across The Globe

With Covid-19, we've made it to the life raft. Dry land is far away - Marc Lipsitch

Coronavirus, Covid- 19, Pandemic, Biological disaster, many are the terms which only leads to disastrous ends of massive losses physical, mental or economical. Big problems are accompanied by a bigger task to find apt solutions for the same as soon as possible. With the prevailing situation and widespread hue and cry the legal framework of every nation becomes a focal point of discussion and debate.

Questions are many which are to be answered urgently through strict laws and regulations which results in containing the spread of coronavirus as well as provide for a relief mechanism to the general public who has suffered the most and is facing a crisis for sustaining a livelihood. Every country has thus gone with its own scheme to end the current state of suffering. When many countries are on the cusp of an economic breakdown the law needs to step in for reconstruction in every sphere.

It is only through laws that dual operation of restricting the virus as well as relief to people can be diligently ensured. Law related to Covid-19 is not only necessary to treat the current situation but is also very important to prepare for any further such global biological disasters.

United Kingdom
United Kingdom in the light of the global pandemic enacted the Coronavirus Act 2020. The act came into effect on 25 March 2020. This piece of legislation will also expire in two years and also is subject to a mandatory review by parliament in every six months. The act has 102 sections and 29 schedules.

It is an all-inclusive legislation specifically enacted to counter Covid-19 pandemic and gives the government necessary powers for the same. However, these powers are temporary and will not be taken into effective if not required. Also the act mandated the ministers to report in every two months on whom the powers are currently active.

The main provisions of the act are as given below:
  • The act provides for emergency registration of healthcare staff and professionals. It is very obvious that there is an urgent need of additional medical staff to provide relief to the affected and to deal with any unprecedented situation. This is why it enables to register professionals who recently retired and even medical students who were near the end of their training.
  • The act also has provisions for temporary registration of social workers and emergency volunteers. It is the need of the hour to look for maximum contribution from maximum people. The act also aims to maximise the number of volunteers for addressing the situation for which the act provides for a compensation scheme to compensate the volunteers for their expenses and losses they suffered.
  • The act also eases the norms for a needs assessment which need to be conducted in order to determine the need of a patient for ongoing nursing. It eases the added pressure on the national health scheme providers.
  • It provides for indemnity in cases of clinical negligence by healthcare workers and people involved in the national health scheme.
  • The act makes provision for management and disposal of dead bodies. It includes facilities and services required in carrying out the same.
  • The act also permits the appointment of judicial commissioners on a temporary basis in case of a shortage. For this purpose the act also seeks to amend the appointment procedure.
  • The act also empowers the public officials to test and isolate potentially infected persons on a reasonable ground.
  • It also gives powers to the ministers to restrict public gatherings or events. They can also close or restrict entry to a premises. However such powers can only be invoked only by a prior official declaration as to an imminent threat to public health. The act also states that ministers can order temporary closing of schools.
  • It makes provision to conduct proceedings of the court via digital means i.e. live link. It permits audio as well video hearings to prevent in person appearance in the courtroom.
  • It provides of additional Statutory sick pay.
These were the core provisions of the coronavirus act 2020, which aimed at further containment of the spread of coronavirus, and also provides for expedient relief.

United States of America
USA in its action plan in response to Covid-19 passed a string of legislations which covered and resolved diverse issues which came hand in hand because of this global pandemic. These were specific legislations aimed at providing relief to affected persons and also provided for specific rules during this pandemic.

Some of the legislations are:
Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act 2020: This legislation provided for a 8.3 billion dollars economic package for the assistance of small businesses which were affected during these tough times. This package also aimed at vaccine development and ensured financial support to state and local governments. It also allocated additional finances to the procurement of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies for the treatment of coronavirus.

It also aims to strengthen public health agencies to prevent and prepare for any impending situation arising out of coronavirus. It also provides for Small business Disaster Loans to help small cooperatives including non-profit organizations which have been adversely impacted due to the pandemic.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act:
This act received presidential assent on 18 March 2020 and was to apply from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. As of now this act was not extended in 2021 but it of utmost importance when we study the action plan of USA to counter the coronavirus. This act provides for paid sick leaves and medical leaves to the employees for reasons relating to Covid-19. The act also provides for benefits of family members as well as children and also prescribes for free vaccination.

CARES Act 2020:
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was the third major legislative step on March 27, 2020. It provides for a relief package of over 2 trillion dollars to mitigate the high losses suffered. It also ensures cash relief to citizens, loans for small businesses. Unemployed benefits to gig workers, freelancers was also given by the act. It also allocated financial assistance to hospitals and healthcare providers. It is the biggest rescues or relief package in the history of USA. This act also provides for a Paycheck Protection Programme for relief to small businesses and meeting their expenses during these times of emergency.

Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act 2020:
The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act 2020 came into force on April 24, 2020. The act provides for an additional relief package of 484 billion dollars in addition to the CARES Act. It also provides for disaster loans, paycheck protection programme, grants to hospitals and healthcare workers, funds to social workers for social service. It also allocates fund for expenses regarding Covid-19 testing and to increase its capacity. It also gives disaster loans to agricultural enterprises.

Covid-19 Emergency Response Act which was assented on March 25, 2020 was the specific legislation made in response to the ongoing coronavirus. The act created and amends other legislation in force. It contains provisions for financial support to the workers who have been affected by the coronavirus and have been in losses. And also allows payments from consolidated revenue fund in matters of public health which are of national concern. The act also provides for quarantine leaves and medical leaves to workers for the reason of Covid-19. The Covid-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2 was also passed on April 11, 2020 further amending the first act and further strengthening the fight against the global pandemic.

India did not enact a new legislation to deal with coronavirus but made use of the existing pieces of legislation to check the spread as well as provide relief in these tough times. It did not proceed in favour of a comprehensive legislation rather a combination of existing acts were used to deal with the situation. It included the Disaster Management Act 2005, Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 and the Indian Penal code 1860. The Covid-19 can se said as the first biological pan India disaster which is being handled by the constitutional machinery of the country.

The Central Government invoked the Disaster Management Act 2005 which aims at effective management of disasters and for matters connected to or incidental thereto. It also defines a disaster as a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence, which is arising from a natural or man made cause.

The National disaster management authority was set up which was headed by the Prime Minister of India. It was created to check the spread of the coronavirus and it issued direction to the union ministries, state governments and other authorities for diligent implementation of the same. A nationwide lockdown was also imposed to carry out the same.

Also state and district level management authorities were framed for close coordination and effective implementation if the guidelines. The act also puts a mandate on every authority whether it is the state government to carry out the guidelines made by the management authority to assist in disaster management. First complete lockdown was imposed in India on march 24, 2020 to ensure social distancing to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The states also invoked the Epidemic Diseases act 1897 to issue further guidelines to restrict the spread of the virus. Also many states made use of the newly enacted public health acts, taking cue from Entry 6 of Schedule 7 of the Constitution of India i.e. public health and sanitation. Epidemic Diseases act 1897 provides for the powers of the state government to take special measure and also prescribe regulations to prevent the spread of a dangerous epidemic disease.

However, ironically the term epidemic has not been defined in this particular piece of legislation. Also a person disobeying the provisions of the act will be deemed to be have committed an offence and will be liable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. The Epidemic Diseases (amendment) Ordinance, 2020 inserts section 2 A in the Epidemic Diseases act 1897 which bars a person to cause loss or damage to a property or violence with a personnel who is engaged in healthcare services during the continuance of an epidemic, for which imprisonment for a minimum three months which can be extended up to five years and fine of a minimum fifty thousand rupees which can be extended up to two lakh rupees is prescribed. These provisions were added keeping in mind the security of healthcare workers and protection from violent attacks by people.

Section 269, 270 and 271 of the Indian Penal Code are important considerations when it comes to limiting the spread of coronavirus. Section 269 imposes an imprisonment up to six months or fine or both for the unlawful or negligent act of any person which leads to the spread of the virus i.e. infection or disease which is dangerous to life.

Section 270 states a punishment of up to two years or fine or both to any person who malignly spreads the disease or infection which is dangerous to life. The word malign increases the gravity of the offence. Section 271 is the rule for disobedience of the quarantine rule i.e. an imprisonment up to six months or fine or both.

These were some of the measures taken by India to establish a counter mechanism against the spread of coronavirus.

Covid-19 has shook the world and has had lethal consequences. It has had global ramifications and has not left a single shore untouched. Countries all over the world have responded with their own separate action plans and strategies to prevent further losses from coronavirus. Coronavirus required urgent attention of governments all over the world which resulted in formation of many new legislations or amendments to the existing laws which were specifically directed towards the relief as well as prevention from any unforeseen contingencies created by the virus.

Countries like USA and UK enacted comprehensive legislations for relief measures which included huge financial packages to diverse sections and covered almost all ambits. Whereas, India relied on existing pieces of legislation to mitigate the losses as well as secure prevention from the spread of coronavirus. Although a single act of parliament to counter the pandemic was highly demanded so as to remove all the confusions regarding lockdowns, quarantine rules, relief packages, and other necessary regulations.

However, the global pandemic also requires global integrated efforts in order to secure some sort of relief. Global Cooperation is the means by which one can drive coronavirus out. Strict adherence to the rules and willed diligent relief by the governments all around the world is the need of the hour.

Written By:
  1. Aditya Singh - 4th year B.A.LL.B from Law College Dehradun &
  2. Akshat Bansal - 4th year B.A.LL.B from Law College Dehradun

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