Cabaero: Forced admission

Nini Cabaero

A NEW term has entered discussions about the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Forced admission, also called forced quarantine.

This is the option being studied by the government wherein persons suspected of being infected by the new virus will be forced, through the exercise of the state’s police power, to be confined at a hospital or to be quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus to the general public.

This term “forced admission” is being mentioned together with other 2019-nCoV terms such as persons under investigation or PUI and persons being monitored or PUM.

Those under investigation are persons who have symptoms of acute respiratory disease (ARD) caused by the 2019-nCoV. These symptoms include fever, cough and colds. Those being monitored do not have the symptoms of infection but they either have traveled to China or Hong Kong, or they have come in contact with persons with travel to those areas.

With the rise in the number of infections in the Philippines, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Eric Domingo said Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, officials are studying the legality of imposing forced hospital admission for those under investigation who refuse to be admitted to a hospital, thus putting their close contacts at risk.

“The government really has the authority, especially if we can already see that their health is deteriorating... It might come to forced quarantine. We have the quarantine law, which gives us the authority when really needed,” Domingo said. Health officials would rather not resort to forcing anyone, he said, but those told to be quarantined have to cooperate with the DOH, local government units and the police.

In Hong Kong, a new order took effect requiring compulsory quarantine for anyone entering Hong Kong from the mainland. People with visas that allow them to stay for less than 14 days will be denied entry. Those who violate the quarantine order face jail time of up to six months and a fine of HK$25,000 or US$3,200.

The DOH reported that, as of Friday, a 57-year-old Chinese man became the third person under investigation for the 2019-nCoV to have died in the Philippines. As this developed, the 36 people who have had contact with the three confirmed 2019-nCoV cases have exhibited symptoms of flu and respiratory infection, a SunStar Philippines report said. Of the 36, 32 were traced through the Chinese couple, the first two confirmed 2019-nCoV cases, while four were contacts of the third case.

With these numbers, the Philippines need not go down the Hong Kong route and force people to follow quarantine orders. At least not yet. But if contact tracing or limiting movement of those supposed to be on isolation is not fulfilled, then state power will come into play.

When that happens, government will not only have its hands full implementing compulsory quarantine but would also have to work on the consequences, such as finding isolation places and caring for these people.