by Lucia Jadudova
Slovakia is one of the most successful countries in fighting COVID-19. So far, Slovakia, with population of 5.5 million inhabitants, has 1521 infected cases, from which 1366 are already healthy and only 28 died. (https://news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US&gl=US&ceid=US%3Aen&mid=%2Fm%2F06npd) The measures put in place were taken shortly after the first infected patients were discovered. For example, all citizens have to wear face masks when in public. Slovak citizens coming back home have to undergo a compulsory quarantine in a state facility. It might be that these measures contribute to the effective fight against COVID-19. However, it is important to think about the implications of the measures on human rights.
COMPULSORY QUARANTINE – ALWAYS?
Slovak citizens coming back from abroad have to undergo a compulsory 14-day long quarantine in a state facility, without a possibility of home quarantine. The state facilities are for free, but people have to pay 13 euros per day for food. (https://slovensko.hnonline.sk/2144744-13-eur-za-stravu-v-holiday-inn-neviem-ci-su-podmienky-v-karantene-neadekvatne-ohradil-sa-matovic) The citizens are tested for COVID-19 approximately after 5 days and in case of a negative result, they are released, but have to spend 14 days in a home quarantine.
There are several exceptions to the mandatory quarantine in a state facility. For example, no quarantine (neither state nor home quarantine) is ordered to pilots and truck drivers, diplomats, Members of the European Parliament, and in a number of cases after a special approval by the ministry. A group of people who has to undergo home quarantine, but does not have go to the state facility, include, for example, minors if they were travelling alone, pregnant women, people with psychological disease, people with specific diseases (such as cancer) and people above the age of 75.(https://korona.gov.sk/karantenne-opatrenia/)
ISSUES WITH QUARANTINE IN A STATE FACILITY
TRANSPORT TO STATE FACILITY
There are several issues relating to the state quarantine.
Slovak citizens are stopped at the border and have to wait for a bus which takes them to the state facility. A petition against the state quarantine signed by more than 11.5 thousand people, claims that all persons must wait for transport at the border in one room or in one tent. As a consequence, there is no proper distancing as there is simply not enough space. Moreover, persons wait for several hours for the transport. There is no measuring of temperature, neither before going into the tent/room nor before entering the bus. The buses are usually completely full and hence no proper distances are kept. (https://www.peticie.com/a/260804)
ROOMS OCCUPIED BY PEOPLE WHO DO NOT KNOW EACH OTHER
It has been claimed by several citizens who underwent the quarantine, that they were forced to be in a room with a person they did not know at all. This happened even though the citizens protested and demanded one person per room in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Sometimes, they had to sleep in one queen bed with a person they have never seen before. Moreover, in a number of occasions, there was only one bathroom and toilet per two rooms. (https://dennikn.sk/1881803/pre-zle-podmienky-v-statnej-karantene-sa-niektori-boja-vratit-na-slovensko/) This is not only very risky in terms of infections, but an interference with the right to private and family life. Indeed, there were some instances in which individuals got infected as a result of being in the state facility. The state ombudsman Maria Patakyova also warns against the potential high risk of getting infected in case of being in one room with a stranger. (https://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/786254/ombudsmanka-chce-zmenit-system-statnej-karanteny-ziada-prehodnotit-jej-povinnost/).
The ombudsman further stated that there is a large number of complaints relating to the unsanitary conditions in the state quarantine facilities (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-slovakia/slovakia-faces-frustration-over-quarantine-centres-as-it-eases-lockdown-idUSKBN22P2YA). The complaints refer to, for example, dirty toilets and mold in the room. (https://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/545998-slovaci-tuzia-vratit-sa-domov-su-ich-takmer-dve-tisicky/).
HUMAN RIGHTS AND STATE QUARANTINE
As mentioned, there are several indications that the compulsory state facility quarantine violates human rights. Firstly, there is an issue with legal basis, as it is unclear whether it exists. In the beginning of May, a range of lawyers as well as the ombudsman warned that they cannot find the governmental decree which allows the police and the army to take Slovak citizens who cross the border to the state quarantine automatically. The information was presented only on a press conference and in a press release. It seems like there is no proper legal basis for the measure as none as none of the ministries were able to present it. (dennik n -https://dennikn.sk/1882207/nariadenie-ktorym-policia-uzavrela-hranice-zrejme-neexistuje-povinna-statna-karantena-moze-byt-protiustavna/?ref=list) Hence, as a result, the state quarantine might be unconstitutional, as it is unsure whether the police and the army are authorised to take citizens from the border straight to the state quarantine.
Nevertheless, the measure follows a legitimate interest, namely protection of public health, more specifically, prevention of the spread of COVID-19. The mandatory state quarantine is an effective tool for slowing down the spread of coronavirus as it isolates people coming from abroad. These individuals might be infected as a result of their travel or because the country they are coming from has a big number of infected people. It is easier to check up on the persons if they are in a state facility, all under one roof. Moreover, it makes the tracking of persons coming from abroad much easier.
IS THE MEASURE PROPORTIONATE?
The main question is whether the measure is proportionate to the aim of protection of public health. It is important to note that there are not many states which require a quarantine in a state facility without any other option available. The majority of the states imposes home quarantine, potentially with check-ups by the public authorities. However, the COVID-19 situation is unique and presents many risks; compulsory quarantine in a state facility might be proportionate to the protection of all other citizens of the country.
Moreover, based on a decree, the citizens are to be released from the state quarantine in case their COVID-19 test result is negative. Afterwards, they are ordered home quarantine for 14 more days. However, this does not always happen in practice. People can end up in rooms with individuals they do not know. Hence, even if one of the individuals tests negative, their “roommate” might test positive, in which case both individuals have to stay in the state facility. In some facilities, people were ordered to stay up to a month even though they had a negative COVID-19 result (https://www.peticie.com/a/260804).
Even though the measure of compulsory quarantine is very effective, in the opinion of the author, it is not proportionate to the aim of protection of public health. The people do not have any other option than the state quarantine. They are literally taken there directly from the border. Moreover, the actual situation witnessed by the home-comers points out to practices which do not prevent the spread of coronavirus, but quite the contrary. They contribute to the spread by putting strangers in one room or a suit without their consent, by unsanitary conditions and lack of social distancing. This puts home-comers in a great risk of infection. The unproportionality of the measure is further supported by the very little number of countries which opted for compulsory quarantine in a state facility.
To conclude, the quarantine of home-comers is important and prevents the spread of COVID-19. However, people should be given an option of home quarantine with potential check-ups by the public authority (potentially via an app). This would mitigate the interference with human rights as well as decrease the risk of infection, while ensuring compliance with the quarantine measures. To add, there are already complaints to the Slovak Constitutional Court claiming that the state quarantine violates human rights. (https://domov.sme.sk/c/22408174/koronavirus-slovensko-statna-karantena.html) We will keep a close eye on all new developments. Stay informed via our social media.
Tell us your thoughts below: is this measure proportionate or do you find it disproportionate and unconstitutional? Has your government taken similar measure to fight Covid-19?