Three people were fined on Wednesday for breaking the conditions of their mandatory quarantine, one of whom was discovered during a routine traffic stop.
Taiwan has fared exceptionally well in the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19 due to the hard work of the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) and frontline medical staff. However, the successes of the CECC are contingent upon people placed in quarantine staying in isolation for the whole time.
Overall, Taiwanese have complied with the CECC’s recommendations, with most people using hand sanitizer, keeping their distance from others and wearing masks, but that does not mean the virus cannot spread. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — mostly spreads through the air in the form of respiratory droplets, which can pass between people up to 2m apart, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that it can last for days outside a host. In the right conditions the virus can stay in the air for up to three days, and can also last for a day or more on surfaces such as cardboard, stainless steel or plastic, the CDC said.
The highly contagious nature of the disease is why it is crucial that quarantine orders are obeyed.
In one of Wednesday’s cases, a man who breached quarantine was fined NT$1 million (US$33,073), while a couple were fined NT$300,000 each. Although the fines are hefty, they might not deter some people, as can be seen from the country’s high rate of drunk driving.
Taipei Deputy Mayor Vivian Huang (黃珊珊) on Tuesday published the name of a man who had broken quarantine — Chen Tse (陳冊) — and he was found that evening. Publishing the names of people who breach quarantine might help police track them down more quickly while acting as a deterrent, but the implications for personal privacy are not clear.
However, authorities and the judiciary might determine that public safety concerns outweigh privacy issues, given that more than 27,000 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported worldwide.
In the US, one man who broke quarantine was told he could face jail time if he did so again, USA Today reported on March 11.
Although laws in the US vary by state, “more than half of states have ‘police powers’ to enforce public health actions,” which could amount to fines or imprisonment in the case of a federally mandated quarantine, the article said, citing a paper published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.
Whether Taiwanese authorities would imprison people who break quarantine remains to be seen, but Article 13 of the Special Act on COVID-19 Prevention, Relief and Recovery (嚴重特殊傳染性肺炎防治及紓困振興特別條例) stipulates that those who contravene the instructions of the CECC or health authorities and infect others could face a fine of up to NT$5 million and a prison term of up to five years.
However, even if authorities wanted to enforce the regulations, they are becoming overstretched, which is only worsening as more people enter quarantine. For example, had police not stopped a man surnamed Li (李) on Wednesday — who was ultimately fined NT$1 million for breaking quarantine — for not wearing his scooter helmet properly, they would not even have known he broke quarantine.
The government should consider establishing mandatory quarantine facilities, rather than allowing people to self-quarantine at home. Obviously everyone would prefer the comfort of their own home, but the government simply cannot afford to take the risk by trusting people to follow rules when they cannot be monitored.
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