Quarantine Law: An array of powers for public health and safety | Daily News

Quarantine Law: An array of powers for public health and safety

Army personnel taking Atalugama villagers to a quarantine centre.  (Picture by Rukmal Gamage)
Army personnel taking Atalugama villagers to a quarantine centre. (Picture by Rukmal Gamage)

Quarantine law in Sri Lanka is primarily governed under Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance No.03 of 1897 (QPDO). The ordinance was introduced (inter-alia) to prevent the introduction of plague and all contagious or infection diseases to Sri Lanka and the spread of such diseases in and outside Sri Lanka.

QPDO defines “disease” to mean “any disease of a contagious, infectious, or epidemic nature” and “diseased” to mean “infected or suspected of being infected with disease” (Sec.13).

The ordinance is composed of 12 sections and the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services is granted the power to make regulations thereunder.

Interestingly lengthy and detail regulations to deal with specific aspects relating to implementation of QPDO were made in 1925, 1933, 1946 and 1960. Accordingly Quarantinable disease means “plague, cholera, yellow fever, typhus and small pox and any other disease specified by the Governor by a notification in the Gazette”. The doubt as to applicability of the regulations in dealing with COVID-19 has now been cleared by the Minister of Health with the amendment done by Extraordinary Gazette No.2167/18 (20.03.2020) by listing COVID-19 to be quarantinable disease.

Section 12 of the regulations defines quarantine to mean “the inspection, examination, exclusion, detention, observation, surveillance, segregation, isolation, protection, treatment, inoculation, vaccination, sanitary regulation, disinfection and disinsectisation of persons, animals, vessels, goods and things and any other measures having as their object the prevention of spread of certain diseases into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from other countries of from ships or to ships or other countries from Ceylon”.

QPDO by nature attracts Criminal Law and needs to be implemented with several other statutes. The Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Police Ordinance and the Pubic Security Ordinance are such other basic laws that operate to give effect to QPDO.  The Government is acting under such statues and regulations made thereunder in the imposition of the curfew and other preventive measures. Enjoyment of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution could also be restricted during quarantine.

Regulations are made under Section 3 of the QPDO on various aspects pertaining to the implementation, including:

· Placing aircraft, vessels and boats arriving at any place or port in Sri Lanka during quarantine. 3(1)(a)

· Placing persons or goods coming or brought in such aircraft, boat or vessel during quarantine. 3(1)(b)

· Prohibiting or regulating the landing of persons or goods from aircraft, vessels or boats either absolutely or conditionally. 3(1)(c)

· Establishing, maintaining and managing the quarantine stations. 3(1)(d)

· Inspecting aircraft, or boats leaving or arriving at any port in Sri Lanka. 3(1)(e)

· Inspecting persons travelling and congregating in hospitals or otherwise who are diseased. 3(1)(f)

· Isolating all cases of disease and diseased persons. 3(1)(g)

· Closing wells, pits, cesspits and cesspools. 3(1)(h)

· Prescribing mode of burial or cremation of any person dying from the disease. 3(1)(i)

· Regulating the number of persons to be allowed to inhabit any dwelling place. 3(1)(j)

· Removal from infected localities to places of observance or other places of persons found in such localities. 3(1)(k)

· Removal of diseased persons to the hospital or other places for medical treatment. 3(1)(l)

· Cleansing and disinfecting any place occupied by any other diseased person or which are otherwise in an insanitary condition. 3(1)(m)

· Disinfecting or destroying with or without compensation any goods which have been in contact with the diseased person as is capable if spreading the disease. 3(1)(n)

· Prescribing and regulating the seizure, detention and destruction or disposal of any good landed or made in contravention to any regulation under the ordinance and for regulating the liability for the expenses connected with the seizure, detention and disposal thereof. 3(1)(o)

· Prescribing the reporting to such officer or officers by a person who is treating the disease 3(1)(p)

· The reporting by the householder or the occupier of the premises to an officer in case of a serious illness occurring in the house or premises. 3(1)(q)

· Appointment of inspectors or officers to carry out the respective provisions and regulations and regulating their duties and conduct and for investigating them with all powers necessary for the due execution of their duties. 3(1)(r)

· Prescribing the publication of regulations made under the ordinance and prescribing and regulating the form and the mode of service or delivery of other notices and documents. 3(1)(s)

Irrespective of such vast powers to make regulations, S3(2) of the ordinance further provides that it would not restrict the generality of the powers conferred on the Minister and such powers would extend to all matters which may be convenient to make regulations for carrying out the objects mentioned in the section.

It is apparent that the closure of international airports for operation of inward commercial passenger flights complies with section 3(1)(c). Sending passengers arriving from overseas for quarantine complies with section 3(1)(b).

If any person, without the lawful authority or excuse does not or refuses to abide by the regulations and the provisions made by the QPDO, he or she shall be guilty of an offence (Sec.4(1)). Such person could be prosecuted in the Magistrate’s Court, which can impose full penalties prescribed by law. Offenders could also be liable under other laws including the Penal code (but not be punished twice for the same offence) (Sec.5). Convicted persons could be liable to imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine or to both (Sec 5(1)).

The duties of the inspectors and the police officers during quarantine are listed in section 6. These are in addition to other powers vested in the police under other laws. Such officer could, with or without a warrant, stop and detain any person who is seen or found committing or being engaged committing an act against the Ordinance (Sec 6(1)). If any person obstructs or helps to obstruct a police officer in executing his duties such person also could be arrested without a warrant (Sec.6(2)). Law and procedure relating to arresting a person and production of suspects before the Magistrate’s Court are applicable in general.

A person in charge of a diseased person shall also be charged with an offence relative to such disease. He is presumed to have known of the existence of such disease in such person (unless he proves that he had no knowledge of the decease) (Sec.7).

Chapter 14 of the Penal Code also governs offences affecting public health and safety.

Any person either unlawfully of negligently act in a manner which is likely to spread infection of any disease dangerous to life shall be punished under section 262 of the Penal Code which shall be imprisonment not exceeding six months or with a fine or with both. Any person who maliciously acts to spread infection of any disease dangerous to life shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding two years or with a fine or both under Section 263. Any person who knowingly disobeys the rules imposed by the Government regarding quarantine in Sri Lanka shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine or both under Section 264 of the Penal Code.

Fundamental Rights

Article 14 of the Constitution provides that every citizen shall have the freedom of speech, assembly, association and movement. Freedom to return to Sri Lanka is also a Fundamental right.

However such Fundamental Rights are subject to Restrictions prescribed by law in the interest of National Security, Public order and the protection of public health and morality (Art.15(7)).

Quarantine law is made to stop spreading of contagious of infectious deceases and therefore comes within the ambit of permissible restrictions.

The Government has powers to act under the Police Ordinance No 16 of 1865 and the Public Security Ordinance No. 25 of 1947 and regulations made under them to impose curfew(s) and provide for measures for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.

The President, acting under Article 33 of the Constitution issued a Presidential Directive on 26.03.2020 (Extraordinary Gazette No.2168/8) appointing a Presidential Task Force to direct, coordinate and monitor the delivery of continuous services for the sustenance of overall community life, including the supply of food provisions produced in rural areas and producers direct to consumers giving priority to the Districts of Colombo, Kalutara, Gampaha, Puttalam, Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu which have greater vulnerability in the eradication of coronavirus in Sri Lanka. The Minister of Health published new Regulations relating to Storage of Grains and Regulations relating to Anchylostomiasis under QPDO (25.03.2020/ Gazette No.2168/6). New regulations could continue to be made to meet issues confronted in dealing with the pandemic.

It is concluded that every action taken by the Government in combatting COVID-19 epidemic complies with the prevailing laws in Sri Lanka. It is the duty of every citizen to have faith in the Government and appreciate and cooperate with the endeavor of the Security Forces, Police, other public officers and authorized volunteers in combating COVID-19.


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