COVID-19 now within the UAE communicable diseases laws: Do you know your obligations?
Middle East | Update | April 2020
The UAE Federal Law No. 14 of 2014 on communicable diseases (the 2014 Law), as amended and expanded by Cabinet Resolution 33 of 2016 (the 2016 Resolution) (collectively the Laws) now applies to COVID-19. This follows the addition of COVID-19 to a schedule attached to the 2014 Law, which lists the diseases that are communicable and which trigger reporting obligations.
In this short article, we set out the specific obligations upon certain categories of individuals and the potential sanctions that can be imposed for violations.
- Physicians, pharmacists and medical professionals: The Laws impose obligations on physicians, pharmacists and other medical professionals to notify their regulating body if they become aware or suspect that an individual has a communicable disease, or has died due to the disease. The Laws provide that there are different timelines within which the notifications must be made. Some types of diseases must be notified within seven days, whereas other more contagious or serious diseases are notifiable within 24 hours. A standard template reporting form is exhibited to the 2016 Resolution and should be part of the operating guidelines and regulatory framework of any healthcare and pharmaceutical services provider. The penalty for breach of such obligation is imprisonment and/or a fine of not more than AED10,000 under Article 4 on the 2014 Law.
A corresponding obligation to report to the regulators is imposed upon medical professionals under UAE Federal Law No. 5 of 2019 which regulates the practice of the medical profession. This law provides that a physician has an obligation to report any suspicion of a communicable disease to a health authority and to take proper actions to prevent its spread.
- Infected individuals: The 2014 Law imposes a number of obligations on individuals who have been infected or suspect they have been infected with the virus. These obligations include notifying the authorities that they are infected upon arrival to the UAE, and being prohibited from leaving a health facility where they have been admitted, without permission from the relevant authorities. Of crucial importance is Article 34 of the 2014 Law which specifies that any individual who becomes aware that he or she is infected is prohibited from committing any “act” which results in the transmission of the disease to others. Should this obligation be breached, the penalty specified in the law is a punishment of 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of between AED50,000 to 100,000.
- Other categories: The 2014 Law also places a seven-day notification responsibility on other categories of individuals, specifically including (i) the work supervisor of a person who is infected or suspected to be infected and (ii) the manager of any hotel where the individual who is infected or suspected to be infected is staying.
Preventative measures by health authorities
Once a notification has been made to a health authority, that health authority has the power to investigate the infection trail and start measures such as isolation, collection of samples, mandatory hospitalisation of that individual and disinfection of transport or property with which the infected person or persons have been in contact.
Article 18 of the 2014 Law refers specifically to epidemics and provides that certain actions can be taken by the health authorities to limit the spread of the virus. This includes taking action to regulate the entrance and exit out of a location that is infected, prohibiting gatherings of people and regulating markets, roads and other public places. These are all measures that we have seen the UAE authorities implementing in order to contain the outbreak of COVID-19. However, these measures are not restrictive and Laws permit the authorities to take any and all appropriate measures it deems fit to prevent widespread of the disease and protect public health.
The 2016 Resolution expanded the 2014 Law on the disease control procedures that the health authorities can implement, and contains provisions on how to deal with appropriate burial arrangements.
Key points to note
- The Laws contain strict obligations on certain professions or individuals to report their knowledge or suspicion of a communicable disease to the authorities. Healthcare providers will largely have existing organisational procedures in order to deal with these obligations. Employers and those in hotel management need to be aware of the obligations that pertain to them and the internal reporting procedures required to ensure they are complying with the Laws. We have seen the UAE authorities take action for breaches of the Laws and expect that the authorities will continue to enforce the Laws rigorously to limit the spread of the virus.
- As the crisis develops, the UAE has announced in recent days a new set of financial penalties for those who violate the further measures prescribed in Cabinet Decision No. 17 of 2020. These include an AED2,000 penalty for individuals leaving their homes with no important work or genuine reason to do so, an AED5,000 fine for attending social gatherings and public celebrations, an AED1,000 fine for not wearing medical masks indoors if they are suffering from chronic diseases and/or have flu symptoms, and an AED1,000 fine for unnecessary visits to hospitals and other health facilities. There are also AED1,000 penalties for those not maintaining social distancing while walking in public, and fines of AED50,000 for businesses that have refused to close public places (including shopping centres, markets, gyms, public swimming pools, cinemas, clubs, parks and restaurants).
- It is evident from the new legislation that the UAE authorities are taking all necessary steps to curb the spread of the disease, and we expect that more steps will be taken in the coming days and weeks ahead.
How we can help?
Should you have any queries about your organisation’s obligations or procedures relating to the Laws, do contact our healthcare compliance, disputes and employment lawyers below.
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