The Health Director-General, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham made a statement lately on the increase in testing for COVID-19, across the country. The test for the virus initally started with 3,000 tests a day at 18 hospitals.
But due to the rapid rise in the number of cases, the Health Ministry expects to increase the testing capacity to approximately 16,500 people, on a daily basis. Now most of these tests are done on those who may have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has been tested positive for the virus.
We previously wrote an article on what Malaysians can do if they know someone who doesn’t want to get tested for the virus, despite having symptoms for COVID-19.
But here’s a flipside to the scenario: What if the authorities force you or someone you know to get tested for the virus, despite not having any symptoms or not being in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person?
The choice is normally yours, but not when it comes to this global pandemic.
The patient normally decides, but not in this case
To answer this, we need to look into a UK case law from 1993. In Airedale NHS Trust v Bland, the court stated that patients get to make their own decisions when it comes to something affecting their health. The patient basically has the right to refuse treatment or tests and this must be respected, based on their interests.
However, in a situation like this—where a global pandemic has taken over and the number of people contracting the virus increases everyday, the principle adopted in the UK case cannot be applied in this situation. This is simply because, the COVID-19 virus is now a health threat to the society, which is going against the laws we have here to curb the spread of this virus.
Section 12 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 states that this might potentially be an offence in Malaysia:
If a person reasonably thinks he might be infected with the virus, and still goes on to risk others by moving in public places—he can be fined, imprisoned up to 2 years or both for the offence.
So here’s essentially what the authorities can do on their side:
The authorities can legally force you to get tested
Recently, the Health DG made a press statement that 69 sporadic transmissions (unpredictable infections) have been recorded in the country. This means that the origin of the infection on those who had gotten it is unknown.
As much as this can be alarming, the law can help prevent this by getting people tested for the virus...with force. Since the Act makes it an offence to spread the infection, authorities have the right to force someone to get tested for COVID-19.
Section 11(3) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 states that:
The Act essentially says, that the authorities have the legal right to use force against anyone who doesn’t comply with the measures they think are necessary. So, if you’re suspected of having the virus, either due to close contact with confirmed cases, or you happen to be in a red zone, the authorities can then force you to get tested.
Now the term “authorized officer” here specifies medical officers (such as doctors), health officers and any other authority that the Minister thinks fit. Therefore, the authorities have the right to investigate and compel someone to take the test—as long as the Health Minister gives them the green light to do so.
So even if you think you might not have contracted the virus, but the authorities suspect and want you to get tested—it’s best to comply and get screened to avoid being in jail instead.