List Covid-19 as an infectious disease, lawyers urge

Lawyers say the omission of Covid-19 from a list of scheduled infectious diseases could lead to suits for damages.

GEORGE TOWN: Two legal experts have raised questions about Covid-19 not being listed as an infectious disease under the disease control law.

They said the virus’ omission from the schedule to the Prevention of Infectious Diseases Act could bring into question the legality of related regulations, including the movement control order (MCO).

Lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar said the law contained a listing of “any other life-threatening microbial infection” among the 30 infectious diseases covered by the law.

However, it was best to specifically state Covid-19 as a scheduled infectious disease, he said.

He said another coronavirus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS-CoV, had been listed in 2016, adding that the same should be done for Covid-19.

Listing it would avoid future arguments that the law did not apply to the novel coronavirus, he said.

He noted that it remained open to the government to say that Covid-19 is clearly covered by the generic item 30 of the First Schedule.

However, someone charged with breaching provisions of the act or regulations could argue that the more favourable interpretation to the accused should prevail.

Gurdial said Singapore and the UK had specifically included Covid-19 by name in their laws.

Constitutional law expert Shad Saleem Faruqi said the exclusion of Covid-19 from the schedule should be looked into immediately.

He said a person charged with breaking the quarantine rules could challenge the government and sue for damages by saying he was wrongly quarantined as Covid-19 was not listed as a scheduled infectious disease.

“The solution is to now include Covid-19 in the schedule and ensure the regulations are backdated,” he said.

FMT has contacted the health ministry and the Attorney-General’s Chambers for comment.