At first glance, it either looks like a staggeringly severe punishment or a sign Moscow is taking the Covid-19 pandemic seriously, depending on who you ask. But experts say its bark will likely be far worse than its bite.
On Wednesday, a draft law on criminal punishment for the violation of quarantine restrictions was submitted to the national parliament, the State Duma. Offenders face between three and seven years imprisonment if found guilty. The bill was co-authored by the body’s Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin and the head of the committee on state building and legislation, Pavel Krasheninnikov. Both are members of the ruling United Russia party.
Their move follows an instruction on Monday from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to tighten punishments. He ordered the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to submit proposals. Mishustin was responding to an appeal from the head of Rospotrebnadzor (a state watchdog), Anna Popova. She made it clear that quarantine is mandatory isolation which must be observed.
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Last week, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin told President Vladimir Putin that several patients had escaped from the city’s specialist infections hospital where the quarantine center for coronavirus is located. “There are a few people who are ‘especially gifted’ and [they] decided to [to avoid] treatment,” he explained.
If passed, the new regulations will allow for a range of strict penalties. If a violation is adjudged to lead to a serious illness, a fine from 500,000 ($6,360) to one million rubles ($12,740) will be imposed, should a person die it will be up to two million rubles ($25,480), and if two or more people die, imprisonment for up to seven years beckons. Under the old rules, 80,000 rubles ($1,017) was the maximum financial hit.
The chief freelance specialist in infectious diseases of Stavropol’s Ministry of Health Irina Sannikova is presently being investigated under these laws. Earlier this month, she visited Spain, and failed to respect quarantine guidelines on her return, instead carrying out her work duties. Last week, Sannikova was admitted to hospital, where she was diagnosed with Covid-19.
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Alexei Kurinniy, a member of the State Duma’s Health Protection Committee told Moscow daily Vedomosti that it will be difficult to prosecute offenders, in practice. “This article can be applied in particular cases,” he said. “But rather, we are talking about the psychological impact as a disciplining factor [or deterrent].” The newspaper added that over the past decade, only two people were actually imprisoned under the current regulations.
This is because proving intent is extremely difficult, according to Pavel Chikov of human rights group Agora. “When there is a pandemic in the country, it is impossible to prove that someone was infected by someone, either legally or medically,” he cautioned, agreeing with Kurinniy that it was more about making the general public think twice about their actions. Chikov did warn, however, that some people may be afraid to go outside when they genuinely must, citing an example of a child with cancer whose family is in quarantine, but requires hospital visits for her illness.
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