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Focus: GS-III Disaster Management, Science and Technology, Prelims

Why in news?

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11 said that according to its assessment, COVID-19 “can be characterised as a PANDEMIC.”
  • WHO has been assessing this outbreak round-the-clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
  • It has been decided that all States/Union Territories should be advised to invoke provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 so that all advisories being issued from time to time by the Ministry/State/UTs are enforceable.
  • A meeting of a high-level Group of Ministers was constituted to review, monitor and evaluate the preparedness and measures taken regarding the management of COVID-19 in India.

WHO’s Views

  • Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
  • We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.
  • And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time, WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases. 
  • WHO has called for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.

WHO on Containment of CORONAVIRUS by Countries

  • If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.
  • Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus.
  • Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
  • The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will.
  • Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity, resources and resolve.

What is Endemic, Epidemic and Pandemic?

(b) Sporadic 
(c) Epidemic 
(d) Pandemic 
(a) Endemic disease 
Normal range 
• New case of disease
  1. Endemic: a disease that exists permanently in a particular region or population. Malaria is a constant worry in parts of Africa.
  2. Epidemic: An outbreak of disease that attacks many peoples at about the same time and may spread through one or several communities.
  3. Pandemic: When an epidemic spreads throughout the world.
  4. Sporadic: Refers to a disease that occurs infrequently and irregularly.

Epidemic Disease Act, 1897

  • The Epidemic Diseases Act was passed in 1897 with the aim of better preventing the spread of “dangerous epidemic diseases”.
  • It evolved to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out in the then Bombay state at the time.
  • The Governor General of colonial India conferred special powers upon the local authorities to implement the measures necessary for the control of epidemics.
  • The Epidemic Diseases Act is one of the shortest Acts in India, comprising just four sections.
  • The British-era Act ensures that all advisories issued by the Union health ministry and state governments from time to time are enforceable.
  • The definition or description of a “dangerous epidemic disease” is not provided in the Act.

What is Section 2 of the 1897 Act?

  • It gives the power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease. Under the act, temporary provisions or regulations can be made to be observed by the public to tackle or prevent the outbreak of a disease.
  • It may also give authorities the power to inspect “persons travelling 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”.

Public health legislation to combat communicable diseases in India

The country has many legal provisions which can be used to take public health measures to prevent and control an epidemic, including provisions of the-

  • Indian Penal Code,
  • The Livestock Importation Act, 1898,
  • Indian Ports Act of 1908,
  • Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940, and
  • Aircraft Rules of 1954 (15).

Bringing all the legal provisions for preventing outbreaks under a single legislation would be challenging, though it would be beneficial for effective implementation and monitoring.

July 2024