There are reports that a doctor contracted the Coronavirus 2019 Disease (Covid-19) because a patient lied about her travel history. The doctor subsequently died because of Covid-19. Perhaps it can be argued that the good doctor should have taken the necessary precaution, like wearing personal protective equipment, but that’s not the issue (besides, that is disrespectful to frontliners who risk their life). The question is the legal liability of patients or persons who lie about their travel history, when such information is material during a public health crisis.
On 26 April 2019, way before the Covid-19 outbreak, the Philippines passed a law to address this kind of public health emergency. The law is Republic Act No. 11332, or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.” [See the Primer on Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act]
This law requires the Department of Health (DOH) and other concerned agencies to, among others, enforce mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and health events of public health concern. R.A. 11332 also prohibits — with the corresponding penalty including imprisonment of up to six (6) months — certain acts, including the following:
- 1. Non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern.
- 2. Non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.
- 3. Intentionally providing misinformation.
The first prohibition applies only to those who are required to report notifiable diseases. The patient is not among those required to make the report. Under the law, the following are required to accurately and immediately report notifiable diseases — all public and private physicians, allied medical personnel, professional societies, hospitals, clinics, health facilities, laboratories, institutions, workplaces, schools, prisons, ports, airports, establishments, communities, other government agencies, and NGOs.
The second prohibition talks about “non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.” There are two categories of persons under this prohibition:
- a. Persons identified as having the notifiable diseases
- b. Persons affected by the health event of public health concern
Item (a) covers those who have been tested positive of, or diagnosed with, the notifiable disease. It does not cover those who have not been tested or diagnosed.
Item (b) is broader in scope, involving those who, even if not diagnosed or tested positive, have been “affected” by the health event of public health concern. We can assume that “affected” is synonymous with “exposed.” It can be argued that people in the quarantine area (the entire Luzon, for instance, for Covid-19) is affected or exposed to the virus, which means that non-cooperation (including those who disobey checkpoints and home quarantine, or those who escape the mandatory 14-day quarantine imposed by government) may be criminally charged under this law.
The third prohibition is intentionally providing misinformation. There is enough basis to argue that patients who lie about their travel history may be criminally charged under this prohibition.
Let’s wait for the test case to settle these issues.