In the Government Notices published in Govt. Gazette no 20,350 of 20th February 2020, it was announced that the Superintendent of Public Health has declared COVID-19 (known as ‘Coronavirus’) as a notifiable disease, adding it formally to the list of notifiable diseases.
Notifiable diseases are those diseases indicated in the law, and those which the Superintendent of Public Health may from time to time elect to add. Simply put, these are diseases which one is legally obliged to disclose and report. Coronavirus 2019 is, as of February 20th, a notifiable disease.
This new classification triggers the provisions of Chapter 465 of the Laws of Malta, the Public Health Act.
This is a law that place a lot of responsibilities on those persons who contract (or are reasonably suspected to have contracted) the virus, subjecting them above all to the ample powers afforded to the Superintendent of Public Health.
First and foremost, any contracting of the virus has to be reported to the Superintendent of Public Health. Article 33 also states that a person who is aware of having a notifiable disease, and in case of a child, the parent/guardian, shall take all reasonable measures and precautions to prevent the transmission of the disease.
The Superintendent has wide powers in this respect.
She can, by public notice, declare that there is an outbreak of a notifiable disease, and literally give any direction towards the control of the outbreak. The law does not place any limits in this respect, so long as any power exercised is within the scope of controlling any outbreak. She can for instance issue directions so that medical practitioners would be unable to refuse to see patients who are suspected to suffer from the disease.
The Superintendent may further require a person to undergo a medical examination by a medical practitioner, if she has reason to believe that such person is suffering from a notifiable disease or if he has an occupation which is considered capable of spreading disease. The person who is suspected to be suffering from a notifiable disease cannot refuse to submit himself to such a test, so much that any person who fails to undergo a medical examination or any medical practitioner who fails to provide a written report shall be guilty of a criminal offence, subject (on the first offence) to a fine (multa) of not less than €232.94 and not exceeding €4,658.75, or to imprisonment for a term six months and two years, or to both the fine and imprisonment. On the second offence committed, the punishment doubles up.
Moreover, the laws give the Superintendent the power to order a person suffering from a notifiable disease: (i) to be isolated in such a place as the Superintendent determines, (ii) to be placed under the supervision of a specified person, (iii) submit himself to further medical examination, medical testing, immunisation, medical treatment or counselling, (iv) to disclose to an authorised officer the name and address of any other person with whom contact by that person may result or may have resulted in the transmission of the disease; (v) and to refrain from doing anything which may cause the spread of disease. The Superintendent may even order that any child suffering from a disease (or present in a household where someone else is suffering from a disease) not to be allowed to attend school, before providing to the person in charge of such school a medical certificate that such child is free from disease or infection and is fit to attend school.
Once again, the failure to obey these rules constitutes a criminal offence.
The Superintendent is even authorised by law to apply to a magistrate for a warrant to apprehend and detain or quarantine any person who fails to comply with such directions. Once again, this is testimony to the fact that the powers of the Superintendent are far-reaching, and that control against a potential outbreak is given maximum priority.
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