Senate yesterday considered a critical bill that would see to the eventual repeal of the obsolete Quarantine Act enacted in 1926, and help Nigeria deal with any impending outbreak of infectious and contagious diseases in the future.
The Health Emergency Bill, 2021, which scaled second reading on the floor during plenary, also does not make it mandatory for any Nigerian to be subjected to forced immunization under the proposed legislation.
Sponsor of the bill, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North), said the piece of legislation under consideration was informed by the challenges that confronted the nation regarding the coordination of national response measures to combat the dreadful coronavirus crisis.
According to the lawmaker, the Executive in an attempt to scale the loopholes created as a result of the extant archaic Quarantine legislation was compelled “to embark on a litany of subsidiary legislations to deal with certain exigencies” at the time.
He stated that the Health Emergency Bill, when passed and signed into law, would establish an updated comprehensive legal and administrative framework for handling outbreaks of infectious and contagious diseases that portends a major threat to public health safety within Nigeria, or are likely to be transmitted into Nigeria or outside Nigerian borders if quarantine or other emergency health measures are not taken by appropriate authorities to control spread or infection rate.
He specifically emphasized that the Bill provides the legal and institutional framework for imposition and implementation of mandatory seIf-isolation and quarantine of infected persons, the introduction of movement restrictions, and adoption of appropriate safety and welfare measures at or during the outbreak of dangerous contagious diseases.
“It provides statutory recognition for the power of the President, and in appropriate circumstances, the Governor, to declare any place or area ”an infected area” and accordingly issue appropriate regulations or directives to prevent the spread of such infections in Nigeria, and the transmission from Nigeria to any other part of the world.
“It also provides for funding and accountability mechanisms for containment measures introduced at the outbreak or during disease epidemics and pandemics.
“This bill further prescribes offences and appropriate punishments for violations and contraventions associated with the control and management of dangerous contagious disease epidemics or pandemics.”
The lawmaker added that the bill in repealing the archaic Quarantine Act of 1926 and under schedules l and II, expands the scope and interpretation of dangerous infectious diseases beyond what is contained in the Quarantine Act.
“There is no gainsaying that the extant Quarantine Act, CAP Q 2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which was enacted in 1926 is deficient for the purposes of enforcing quarantine and self-isolation of infected persons at or during the outbreak of dangerous contagious disease epidemics or pandemics in the country.
“Indeed, most of the ailments like cholera, plague, yellow fever, smallpox and typhus that warranted the enactment of the Quarantine Act of 1926
do not require the same quarantine measures like today’s complex and deadly epidemics such as ebola and COVID-19
“The passage of this Bill will effectively address these shortcomings and put in place a legislation that is up to date with modern realities regarding disease epidemics or pandemics,” he stressed.
He, however, emphasized that the piece of legislation most importantly, “is devoid of any controversial clauses and no individual will be subjected to forced immunization under the proposed legislation.”
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan
, referred the bill after scaling second reading to the Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases for further legislative work and report back in two weeks.