Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Fearing that novel coronavirus may acquire the level of community transmission in the country, the Centre on Thursday had asked all states to invoke the Indian Epidemic Diseases Act 1897. And Odisha government followed suit by doing so on Friday.

And taking a cue from Centre, where the Union Home Ministry has on Thursday decided to transfer the power of Home Secretary under the chapter10 of Disaster Management Act to Health Secretary, Odisha government  also toed the line on Friday.

Why Centre asked states to invoke colonial era Act Indian Epidemic Diseases Act?

A look at the Act shows this Act is a legal instrument to prevent spread of dangerous epidemic diseases in the country. The section 2 of the Act empowers the State government to prescribe temporary regulations on public, which it deems necessary to prevent spread of a dangerous disease.

In fact, invoking this provision of the Act, Karnataka government has put an embargo on marriages, and Odisha government decided to regulate marriage and religious functions.

And the main motive of invoking the Act is revealed when one reads the section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act in accordance with subsection (b) of the Act.

The section 2 (b) of the Act says State government will be empowered to carry out the inspection of persons traveling by railway or otherwise, and the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.

At his evening presser yesterday, State Health Secretary Nikunj Dhal has hinted at the looming danger of COVID-19 on Odisha via the rail tracks.

Significantly, the COVID19 in India no more remains an imported disease. The spread to Agra from Delhi, large number of cases in Kerala and Maharashtra are evident to the novel coronavirus acquiring the level of local transmission in the country.

As per WHO and US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a virus acquires the level of local transmission in a country, there are heightened chances of it acquiring the level of community transmission in a month. For which, month of March will be crucial in India's fight against novel coronavirus.

Even, US-based CDC has already upgraded COVID19 to the level of sustained community transmission level in India. And India is just a notch below the widespread sustained spread level. Currently, globally, Japan is the only country having widespread sustained spread of COVID-19.

What is sustained community spread? As per CDC, sustained community spread means that people have been infected with the virus, but how or where they some of them became infected is not known, and virus transmission is ongoing.

However, the difference in Indian scenario at present is, the cause of new infections have been traced to contact with persons having travel history to COVID-19 hit countries.

But the big observation is India is currently witnessing more and more cases of secondary infection. And the numbers are yet to stabilise. This rising count has the potential risk of making COVID-19 becoming a widespread sustained community transmission in the country, provided no curbs were imposed on social gatherings.

It is towards this end, the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 has been invoked in Odisha along with other states.

Moreover, the controversy surrounding the reported first COVID-19 death in India at Kalaburgi emphasises the need to invoke section 10 of the Disaster Management Act 2005.

What is Chapter 10 of Disaster Management Act 2005?  

This chapter of the Act empowers the State to not only provision punishment as per IPC act against those who obstruct the work of any government official in discharging its duty but also takes into task any government official or department for not discharging an assigned duty. The chapter empowers the State government to initiate action against private organisation for not following the government directives.

COVID-19 Count: *123 countries in its grip as on March 13, 2020.

*Five new countries/territories/areas (Jersey, Réunion, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba and Guyana) have reported cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

*Indian Scenario: Total positives -89, Deaths -2 , Mortality rate - 2.4 per cent. (for details look at the table)

*Odisha Scenario: 138 persons have been put under the surveillance of Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP). 21 suspected cases tested negative.

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