THE Delhi High Court on May 11 held that for each and every case it could not be said that the period of home quarantine must stand limited to 14 days and no more.
The Court, however, directed that if any person, who does not display COVID-19 symptoms and has not tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, is home quarantined for over 14 days, he shall have a right to represent to the authorities against such continued quarantine and, if he so represents, the authorities would be bound either to lift the quarantine forthwith or to explain, to the person concerned, as expeditiously as possible and without any undue delay, the reason for keeping him in home quarantine for over 14 days.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Delhi resident Amit Bhargava who had on March 20, come in contact with a person, who was home delivering pizzas and who, subsequently, tested positive for the COVID-19 on April 14
Petitioner had challenged his prolonged home quarantine beyond the 14 days. According to him, he had come in contact with the pizza delivery boy on March 24, 2020. The period of 14 days, reckoned therefrom, expired on or around April 7, 2020. Thus, in his submission, there was no justification in placing him under home quarantine for 14 days with effect from April 14, 2020.
It was also contended by the petitioner that he ought not to have been placed under quarantine at all, as he had not tested positive within 14 days of his coming into contact with the aforesaid infected pizza delivery boy.
Justice C. Hari Shankar observed that “‘arithmetically and logically speaking’, the petitioner may have a point. However, the COVID-2019 virus is, presently, not known to subscribe to the dictates either of arithmetic or of logic”.
“The respondent has, apparently, calculated the period of 14 days, commencing 14th April, 2020, when the pizza delivery boy tested positive. The petitioner has not been placed under home quarantine, for a day beyond 14 days, reckoned from the date when the pizza delivery boy tested positive and from which date, therefore, he could be treated as a “confirmed case” of COVID-2019 infection – to borrow the expression used in the Guidelines dated 14th March, 2020”, Justices C Hari Shankar added.
Further, the court said the period of 14 days, stipulated in the Guidelines of March 14, 2020, and the 2020 Regulations is not mandatory but is intended to serve as a general guideline.
“As of today, there is no certainty of opinion, regarding the extent of virulence of the COVID-2019 virus, its actual period of gestation, the period taken for symptoms, in an infected person, to manifest themselves, or the period for which a person, once infected, remains a potential source of infection to others. The medical community, the world over, is yet to come to grips with this virus, and isolate its individual characteristics”, the court said.
“At the same time, keeping a person under unjustified home quarantine also has deleterious civil consequences”, the court said.
Petitioner also submitted that the first notice whereby he was placed under home quarantine did not indicate the date of contact by him with the pizza delivery boy. Petitioner, therefore, requested for a direction to the Delhi Government to incorporate, in all like notices of home quarantine to be issued in future, the date of contact, by the person concerned, with the infected individual.
The argument did not, however, find favour with the court which said “there are various grounds on which a person may be placed under home quarantine, not all of which are necessarily relatable to her, or his, having come in contact with a person who tested positive for the COVID-2019 virus. Besides, public disclosure of the date of contact, in every case of such contact, may not be practically feasible”.
Court added, in any event, it was not convinced that public interest would warrant mandating such disclosure.
“However, all notices, placing persons under home quarantine, have necessarily to indicate the period of home quarantine, as well as the date from which it is to commence”, the court said.
The Court directed that the Delhi Government to ensure that a helpline number for persons in-home quarantine is displayed on the official website of the Government of NCT of Delhi.
Justice C. Hari Shankar also observed that “….there can be no doubt about the proposition, in law, that, while tackling the challenge, civil and constitutional rights of citizens cannot be compromised. However, while examining whether, in a particular case, such compromise has, or has not, taken place, it is as much incumbent on the citizen, as on the Court, to adopt an approach which is not hyper-legalistic, but is pragmatic and practical, and would not disturb the efforts to tide over the pandemic, in which efforts, rewardingly, the nation has come together as a whole…..”
“Certain inconveniences, and difficulties are bound to arise in the process. It is incumbent, on each one of us, to contribute our efforts in this direction, and to forbear from rushing to Court, at the drop of a hat. Of course, were the efforts, to battle the COVID2019 pandemic, to actually breach any civil or constitutional rights of citizens, it would be the duty of the Court to step in and remedy the situation”, the judge said.