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This article has been written by Sara Suresh, a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.


Law plays a major role in every country. They guarantee fundamental rights and safety to the people. COVID-19, which is commonly known as the coronavirus, has affected all the nations across the globe inflicting major challenges mentally, financially and in terms of availability of services. Legislation is demanded at this point of time to concoct a manoeuvre to regulate the system and to face and overcome the challenge. 

Different countries have introduced new legislation to grapple with COVID-19 and to face its consequences and repercussions.

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New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the few countries which have eliminated the virus within its borderline. New Zealand has a 4 level COVID-19 alert system where each level has different kinds of restrictions. It has drafted two new legislations and three existing legislations were made active [1]. 

The Health Act, 1956 [2] was made functional which gave wide range of powers to the Minister of Health, the director-general and medical officers of health in order to deal with the crisis. The Government perceiving that the coronavirus crisis would disrupt and impede essential Government and business activities, brought the Epidemic Preparedness Act, 2006 [3] into action. The Government passed necessary notices under this act in order to deal with the challenges of the outbreak.[4] 

COVID-19 Public Health Response Act, 2020 [5] was passed which lays out a new structure of provisions in order to respond to the outbreak. The act will be repealed every 90 days unless it is continued by the motion of the house. The main object behind the act is to avert and abate the spread of the virus, to mitigate the adverse effects and consequences of the outbreak, to make enforceable course of action and to keep the measures coordinated. Section 11 of the Act enumerates the orders that can be made by the Government such as an order can be made to require people to stay in a particular place, abstain from travelling, desist from associating with specified people, be isolated or quarantined, report of medical examination and testing, etc. Orders can also be made with respect to places and premises such as that places be closed unless specified measures are followed, prohibit gatherings and prohibit things from entering unless specified precautions are met with [6]. Any person who fails to comply with the order commits an offence and is subject to conviction for a term not less than 6 months and a fine not exceeding 4000 dollars. 

Amidst of all these legislations, the New Zealand Government was criticized by its people that its actions were illegal and Chaotic. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act, 2020 was passed urgently without wider scrutiny. The act authorizes the enforcement officer to enter any premises without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person failed to comply with section 11 orders, thereby providing enormous powers to enforcement officers.

United States of America

In the United States of America, four eminent legislations with respect to COVID-19 were passed under different phases (Phase 1, 2, 3, 3.5). All these four legislations have provisions to tackle the challenges posed by the pandemic and they remain active in different time periods as specified by that particular legislation.

Under Phase I, “The coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020” [7] was brought into effect. This act stipulates that funding would remain accessible for a multiple-year period. This Act sanctions 8.3 billion dollars for various federal agencies as emergency funding to address the challenges of coronavirus outbreak. The fund is distributed between the domestic agencies for the purpose of research and development of vaccine, therapeutics, diagnostics and other health related technologies, to replenish the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund and for the Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans program in order to support the Small Business entities which suffered a negative impact as a result of the coronavirus. On International Fronts, the funds are allocated for supporting health systems that respond to the outbreak across the globe and for supporting humanitarian assistance, economic and security efforts that result from the coronavirus outburst.

Under Phase II, Families First Coronavirus Response Act [8] was enacted. The Act would remain functional from 1st April 2020 through 31st December 2020. This legislation prescribes free testing to people, paid leave to workers, protecting public health workers and to bestow paramount benefits to children and families. The Act contains various divisions, where each division is prepared by distinct committees.

Division A of the Act provides funds to four main nutritional assistance programs to ensure that they have requisite supplies, assistance to local food banks to meet the rising demand. It also specifies that nutritional assistance should be provided to low income pregnant women or mothers living with children, children who receive free or reduced price meals if the schools are not closed due to the outbreak, low income seniors who are homebound, disabled and have multiple chronic illness and to other U.S. territories. 

Under Division B of the Act, it prescribes various waivers such as school meal waivers, allowing the child and adult care centres to waive meal pattern requirements and suspending the work and training requirements for SNAP programs.

Division C of the Act specifies that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHO) should publish Emergency Temporary standards and to develop, reinforce and accomplish a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to safeguard the health care workers from being exposed to coronavirus. It also specifies that hospitals and nursing facilities should adhere to the standards prescribed by OSHO as a condition for getting Medicare funds. 

Under Division D, the legislation provides Emergency paid leave benefits. The term “Emergency leave day” is defined under this act as a day, in which an individual is unable to work due to the following reasons:

    • The worker is diagnosed of COVID-19.
    • The worker is quarantined.
    • The worker is caring for any person who has COVID-19 or who is quarantined.
    • The worker who is caring for the child or any other person who is not able to take care of themselves under the Covid -19 related circumstances.

Under the act, all the eligible workers will receive these benefits for a month which may extend up to three months.

Division E of the Act contains provisions for Emergency Unemployment Insurance and Benefits. The legislation provides 1 billion dollars to states in order to increase the unemployment insurance benefits under prescribed conditions. States can also issue interest free loans in order to help to pay the unemployment benefits till December 31, 2020. It also provides extended benefits to certain states if they have ten percent or more unemployment rates than previous year. The states should also be provided technical assistance for setting up work sharing programs.

Division F of the Act concentrates on paid sick leave. All the employers are required to provide seven days paid sick leave and an additional 14 days leave in the event of a public health emergency including coronavirus. It also covers days if the child’s school or the employer is closed or any family member is quarantined or isolated. Businesses with 50 or fewer persons can be reimbursed for the cost of sick paid leave.

Under Division G, the Act contains health provisions. It contains provisions for waiving the cost of the Medicare program by the state and for reimbursing the COVID-19 diagnostic testing cost by the National Disaster Medical System to uninsured individuals. The health insurance issuer should provide coverage for diagnostics and service related to COVID-19. A particular amount of fund has even been allotted to Indian Health Service. Division H of the Act deals with budgetary provisions.

Under phase 3, the coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act [9] was brought into law. It comes with a package of 2.2 trillion dollars and it is the largest relief bill made in the U.S so far. This Act has broadened its ambit of unemployment benefits by including people who get layed off, Gig workers and freelancers. It specifies that payment would be made to different households, airlines, hospitals, health care systems, air cargo carriers and airline contractors. The payment would also be made to the State and local Government. One of the key aspects of the Act is the Paycheck protection program. A particular amount is allocated to support small businesses in order to support their payroll and overhead expenditure. The main object behind this aspect is to keep the workers both paid and employed at the time of coronavirus crisis. 

Under phase 3.5, “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act [10] ” was signed and enacted. The bill comes with a package of 484 billion dollars as additional funding in order to enhance and support the key features of the CARES Act such as Paycheck protection program, Small business disaster loans, hospitals, testing for coronavirus and other Healthcare systems.

United Kingdom 

United Kingdom has passed two major prominent laws with reference to COVID-19, the Coronavirus Act, 2020 [11] and the Health Protection Coronavirus Regulations, 2020 [12]. The Act applies to all the four nations of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. All the nations are enabled to take actions under this act. On the other hand, the regulations apply only to England.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 was the preliminary response of the Government towards the Pandemic which was drafted under section 45R of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. These regulations were later revoked after passing of the Coronavirus Act, 2020. But these regulations are extended to those areas which are declared as affected areas by the Government. The regulations impose restrictions on movement, gatherings and events along with criminal liabilities in the event of failure to comply with the orders. But this restriction comes along with an exception of reasonable excuse. Authorized persons, police and local authorities were given powers to enforce these restrictions.

The coronavirus Act, 2020 encompasses powers and duties that are mandatory to deal with the outbreak. The Act is subject to six month parliamentary review and will terminate in two years. The parliamentary review will be based on the vote on a motion that the act should continue. The Act contains 102 sections and 29 Schedules. 

Some of the core provisions of the Act include emergency new registration of health professionals, emergency temporary registration of social workers, compensation scheme to redress the loss of income and expenses incurred by the volunteers, interim amendments to existing mental health legislation which are concerned with detention and treatment of patients, indemnity coverage in case of clinical negligence of health care workers and others, increase the number of Judicial officers, forbid and restrain events and gathering, direct temporary shutdown of educational institutions, suspension of pension schemes, recovery of Statutory sick pay, financial assistance to coronavirus related activity, postponement of election till 6th May 2021. 

In the present situation, Schedule 21 which deals with potentially infectious people was given much attention. The act defines “potentially infectious” as any person who is infected or contaminated with coronavirus and there is a peril that such person might infect other people or any person who has been living in a contaminated area within 14 days preceding at that time or any person who has been to any country, area or territory outside the borders of UK which experience high risk of transmission of virus. The act also stipulates enforcement provisions such as if a Public health officer, constable or immigrant officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is potentially infectious they may direct that person to immediately move to the specified place where that person can get screened and assessed. In case, if the person fails to meet those orders, he may be removed to the specified place. 

But considering the spread of the virus in the UK and as per the definition of “potentially infectious”, almost everybody will fall into this classification since there would be no proof that a person would be contaminated in the absence of a test. The act was also criticized on the ground that it suspended the Care Act, 2014 and relaxed the rules for social care services and supports which would have a negative impact on senior people and people with disabilities. Certain provisions like detaining people under mental health grounds fundamentally violate the human rights of the people.


The Australian Government has evoked multitudinous new and existing legislations, orders, regulations, ministerial directions and governmental decisions. The Government has made new laws and amended existing laws with regard to Insolvency & Bankruptcy, Employment, Competition and Consumer Law, Leasing, Small business, Restrictions on events and movement, Environmental planning, Electronic transactions, Corporate Governance, Government assistance, Foreign Investment and Data Protection. Each jurisdiction in Australia has their own regulations, order and directions as they have the power to pass and implement them.

The Australian Government has passed certain legislations as an economic response to the coronavirus crisis. The Government in its first and second part of economic response to the pandemic enacted Stimulus Package Acts [13]. This Act comprises various acts which deals with Business, credit flow, employment, document and witness requirement. Some of the key provision of the act includes procedures to support individuals and households through payment of social security and income support, extending the time to respond to bankruptcy notices, temporary measures to support distressed businesses, allocation of funds to severely affected regions and industries. As a part of the third economic response, the Government introduced the Jobkeeper Payment Scheme [14]. The scheme allows eligible employers who are severely affected by the crisis to acquire subsidy from the Government in order to continue paying their employees. 

Certain amendments such as Aged Care Legislation Amendment 2020 [15] were enacted in order to support the senior citizens and to respond to their financial problems. The Governor General of Australia declared a biosecurity emergency under Biosecurity Act, 2015 [16]. The Biosecurity Act, 2015 stipulates activities and measures to prevent the spread of disease in Australia. 

One of the recent prominent legislation in Australia is COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, 2020. This Act is enabled to amend various other acts and legislations to initiate interim orders to tackle the pandemic. Some of the major amendments include extending provisional orders of domestic violence for a period of six months, allowing the director general to carry out necessary steps to prevent the spread of virus, permitting employers to give less than sixty day notice before long service leave is taken. 

Eventually, COVID-19 Emergency Response Legislation Amendment Act, 2020 was sanctioned. This act was enacted to give immediate effect to both Commonwealth agreements and operational responses in order to enable the government to adapt to additional measures implemented to deal with the disaster. In due course, Public Health (Emergencies) Amendment Act 2020 was enacted to amend the Public Health Act, 1997. The key aspects of the amendment include further extension of public health emergency, power of the minister to revoke the further extension of emergency, empowering the Chief Health Officer to take control of property such as personal protection equipment, medicines, hotel or stadium for the purpose of Clinique, quarantine or stadium.

Global Legislations on COVID-19

Spain has passed many royal decrees to provide measures to address the COVID-19 crisis. The decrees prescribe measures to deal with health, economy, and small and medium size business [17]. During the initial stages of the pandemic, the Spanish Government has nationalised all the private hospitals and healthcare providers [18]. The Government of Canada has passed three main acts in order to minimize the effects of the pandemic on its citizens. COVID-19 Emergency Response Act was enacted which contains provisions of Income Tax Act, Deposit Insurance Corporation Act etc. COVID-19 Emergency Response Act No.2 was enacted to amend the Income Tax Act and Financial Administration Act. Canada Emergency Student Benefit Act was enacted to authorize payment to students who lost their work and income due to the outbreak [19]. 

On the other hand, Singapore has passed COVID-19 Temporary Measures Act, 2020 [20] to offer temporary relief to businesses and individuals who are unable to enforce the contractual obligations and to suspend the proceedings of the court. COVID-19 Temporary Measures (Control Order) Regulations, 2020 [21] was enacted to contain and prevent the spread of coronavirus by restricting the movements of the residents with an exception to persons engaged in discharging essential services.
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India is ranked globally as 5th worst COVID-19 hit country. Forthwith, COVID-19 is the first pandemic which is handled by legal establishments of the country. Three main legislations such as Disaster Management Act (2005), Epidemic Diseases Act (1897) and India Penal Code (1860) were made operative to address the challenges imposed by COVID-19. 

The legislative object behind the Disaster Management Act [22] is to ““provide for the effective management of disasters”. The National Disaster Management Authority is established by the Disaster Management Act which acts as the apex body at the central level and develops guidelines to the state body, with the Prime Minister as its Chairperson. Correspondingly, State, District and Local level Disaster Management Authorities were founded [23]. 

The Central Government has the power to issue directions to any authority within India irrespective of any law to assist in the disaster management. The National and State executive committee are constituted to assist the National and State Authority and have the responsibility to implement the policies and plans of the National Authority and monitor the implementation of the plans. A National wide lockdown was imposed under the Disaster Management Act in order to ensure social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

In 2008, the National Disaster Management Authority framed the Guidelines on Management of Biological Disasters. It provides the definition of biological disaster as scenarios which involve disease, disability or death on a large scale among humans, animals and plants due to toxins or disease caused by live organisms or their products [24]. The plan stipulates that availability of food, clean water, minimum standards of hygiene and sanitation would be guaranteed and special emphasis would be laid on most vulnerable groups to enable and emancipate them to respond and recover from the effects of the biological disaster.

The Government framed the National Disaster Management Plan 2019 [25], which deals with “Biological and Public Health Emergency” broadly. Under this plan of action it is specified that it is the responsibility of the state to assess the risk of vulnerable and marginalised sections and to integrate adaptive measures in social protection schemes for the vulnerable category.

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 [26] was invoked to prevent the spread of the virus through better measures. The Act contains four sections. The State Government is empowered to formulate special measures and regulations to inspect the persons travelling by railways and persons who are suspected of being infected by the investigating officers. Under Section 2 of the Act, the directions of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare can be enforced. The Government is enabled to inspect any ship arriving or leaving any port and to detain any person intending to sail or arriving in the country. If any person fails to comply with the order or regulation, they are subject to Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

A new ordinance, the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 [27] was promulgated by the President after healthcare workers were subject to workplace violence. The Act acknowledges any kind of attack on the healthcare workers and their properties a cognizable and non-bailable offence. 

Among the states, Kerala is the only state which issued “Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020” [28] by invoking legislative power under Entry 6 (Public health and sanitation) of State List. The object behind the Act is to unify and consolidate laws related to control and prevention of Epidemic diseases. Section 4 of the Ordinance allows the Kerala Government to frame new measures and regulations to tackle the virus. The Ordinance confers enormous powers to the state government such as to restrict the essential services, to ban on gatherings or events, examine those who travel to the state, secure the borders, restrict transport and working of both Government and Private Offices. The Ordinance authorises a two year imprisonment penalty with or without a fine of 10,000 Rupees. 

Various State Governments have passed State Specific Public Health Acts. For instance, Tamil Nadu has implemented the “Tamil Nadu Public Health Act, 1939” [29] to handle the virus. Maharashtra has passed the “Maharashtra COVID-19 Regulations, 2020” [30] which directs all Government and Private hospitals to provide separate places and screening processes to identify the cases, medical officers and the district administration should work in coordination with state integrated diseases surveillance programme offices and no person or institution or organization can disseminate any information without ascertaining the facts and prior clearance of the commissioner. The Delhi Government has passed Delhi Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations [31], 2020 which is analogous with the Maharashtra regulations.

Why does India need a comprehensive legislation?

Under Disaster Management Act, 2005 “Disaster” is defined as “a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes” [32] which refers to tsunami, cyclone, landslide, hurricane considering the fact that the Act was passed as an immediate response to 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and predominantly focuses on preparation, response and relief measures to deal with the calamity. A disease could be a catastrophe but it’s a biological threat rather than a physical or geographically confined menace which can last over a long period of time. 

The National Disaster Management Guidelines, 2008 [33] framed by the National Disaster Management Authority provides the definition of Biological Disaster as, but it is still uncertain whether other provisions of these guidelines are implemented or not. For instance, the guidelines that vulnerable groups should be ensured minimum standards of living are not fulfilled. 

The Act charges the authority [34] with the responsibility of issuing guidelines prescribing a minimum standard of relief to persons who are affected by the disaster including minimum requirements to be provided in the relief camps with respect to shelter, food, drinking water, medical cover and sanitation. Special provisions should be made to both widows and orphans and ex gratia assistance should be provided on account of loss of life and for restoration of means of livelihood. The authorities can also suggest relief in repayment of loans to those persons who are affected by the disaster [35]. But these provisions were not executed by the Government. The Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the migrants issue and passed an interim order [36] stating that the migrant workers should not be charged for travelling by bus or train and free meals should be provided to them by the originating state. But how far the order has been implemented still remains vague.

 Moreover, the Prime Minister is given extensive power under the Act which paves way for political interference in the decisions made. This presents a serious question whether the Act was originally intended to or is competent enough to address the threat of pandemic. 

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 [37] contains four sections and does not define what constitutes an “epidemic disease”. The National Disaster Management Guidelines, 2008 states that Epidemic Diseases Act needs to be repealed and should be substituted by another act which takes into consideration the prevailing and foreseeable public health needs. But these guidelines were not taken into consideration and the fragile act was implemented in some areas. 

The Supreme Court in its earlier order dated 8th April 2020 directed the Government to conduct free COVID-19 tests.[38] But later, it modified its order stating that free tests can be availed only by people who are eligible under Ayushman Bharat Scheme and other weaker sections of the society. Hindustan Times in its article dated 20 May 2020 mentioned that 300 people under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme were treated cashless. [39] The same Supreme Court in its order dated 5th June 2020 asked the Centre whether it can provide treatment at a subsidized cost of Rs. 4000 to people who are not covered under the Ayushman Bharat scheme [40]. On the Other hand, Federation of Healthcare Associations of Karnataka has fixed Rs. 5200 a day for people under this Scheme [41]. While other nations such as Spain and New Zealand have provided the COVID-19 treatment at free of cost. 

Manual Scavenging is prohibited in India under Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 [42]. But 48,345 manual scavengers have been identified in India by a survey conducted in 18 states till 31st January 2020 [43]. The scavengers have a high probability of getting infected by COVID-19. But they are not aware of the consequences of the virus and are not provided soaps and sanitizers which are quite necessary. By neglecting the domain of Public Health, India cannot eradicate coronavirus. All these instances point out a single fact that a lack of legislation at the need of the hour is exploiting the livelihood of the people.

There are a lot of shortcomings in the present legislation which deals with COVID-19 in India. Other countries such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain have a proper legal framework to deal with the pandemic flexible and drastic regulatory measures and they were able to mitigate the effects of the outbreak. The population of India poses a great administrative challenge to deal with any disease. But when there exists a law with detailed course of action can strengthen the administrative management to an extent. 

Concluding Remarks

A new, advanced and vigorous epidemic law should be framed in order to tackle the challenges posed by the virus. A new legislation should be framed and it should provide a nodal authority which is represented by both centre and state for planning and executing the required measures such as isolation, quarantine, surveillance, testing etc. The Act should give ample autonomy and powers to the States to plan and execute measures at district, block and gram panchayat level. The Act should also contain provisions of financial assistance to local authorities, farmers, healthcare, business and vulnerable groups and should elaborate the allocation of funds to different sectors of the society. The Act should include both civil and criminal punishments in case of violation of authorities’ direction and order. The act should also address the issue of migrant workers, food availability, entitlement of statutory minimum relief, arranging the livelihood to daily wage labourers.

Extraordinary times such as a coronavirus outbreak require peculiar measures and actions. Public trust can be procured only when the Government is transparent and accountable. India is a country with too many laws and acts. There is no point in having legislation without enforcing it. If a new law to deal with the consequences of the pandemic is established, then it should be effectively implemented and executed to achieve the desired object. 


  4.     FullText.html?originationContext=document&transitionType=DocumentItem&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true&bhcp=1
  14. 04/Fact_sheet_supporting_businesses_0.pdf
  30.           2014%20March%202020….pdf
  32. Section 2(d), Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  34. Section 12 & 19, Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  35. Section 13, Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  36. In Re: Problems and miseries of Migrant Workers, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 11394/2020.
  38. Shashank Deo Sudhi v. Union of India Ors, Writ Petition No. 10816/2020

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