19 November 2020
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Latest COVID-19 triggers amendments to the Protection of the General Public from Infectious Diseases Act

With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic insight and with many measures from the state of emergency having been relaxed, there has been a growing need for these measures to be strictly adhered to in order to prevent a fresh wave of infection.  This has prompted the legislator to tweak the regulatory framework.

In order to institutionalize protection and punitive measures and encourage citizens to take preventative care against coronavirus infection, on November 12, 2020, the Serbian Parliament adopted the Protection of the General Public from Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Act (“the Act“). The Act sets down the conditions under which vaccination against the Covid-19 virus in Serbia could be mandatory, what municipal inspectors and police are allowed to do, as well as what we will have to adhere to if quarantined or in isolation.

The Act stresses the duty of the general public to take steps to protect against infection, to take measures to protect their own health. Failure to do so can lead to fines and put the health and lives of others at risk from the infectious disease.

Mandatory immunization

A far-reaching amendment under the Act is the inclusion of emergency vaccination provisions.  The Act prescribes that in the case of an epidemic of a contagious disease, recommended or obligatory emergency immunization against that contagious disease may be introduced for all persons, i.e. for certain categories of persons.  Vaccination provisions can be triggered where it has been identified that there is a danger of coronavirus transmission or of the virus being carried into the country.  The Minister of Health shall issue any vaccination order, in line World Health Organization recommendations.  This order must come on foot of a proposal from the Institute of Public Health and with approval from the Republic Expert Commission for Infectious Diseases.  There are also penalty provisions for refusing vaccination, including fines ranging from RSD 50,000 to RSD 150,000.

Home isolation and quarantine at home

The Act also makes provision for home isolation of infected persons displaying no symptoms or mild symptoms, and not requiring hospital treatment.  This measure will be ordered by a specialist in the field of infectious diseases, and the same doctor will notify the competent epidemiological service.  The government is to prescribe who will oversee compliance with this measure in the future.

In addition, the notion of home quarantine was introduced under the amendments.  Everyone who has been or is suspected of having been in contact with an infected person will go into house quarantine. There will be a restriction on movement and a requirement to monitor health for 14 days from the last suspicious contact date.

The issue of home quarantine is particularly interesting from the point of view of labor law.  Namely, a decision ordering home quarantine shall also serve as a certificate of unfit for work, during which the person, if employed, is entitled to a salary.  During this time the employee is deemed as being on sick leave and eligible for 65% of his/her regular salary.

This rule also applies to parents, so if a quarantine measure is imposed on a child under 14 years of age or a person who is unable to take care of himself/herself and the protection of his rights and interests, a decision on sick leave is issued to the parent or guardian.

Significantly broader powers for the Minister

Under the Act, the powers of the Minister of Health have been further expanded, and he becomes a key person when it comes to adopting measures in the case of a pandemic.

Based on a proposal by the Commission and the Institute, the Minister may order a ban on gatherings in public places, introduce a lockdown in an area affected by the emergency situation, ban or restrict travel, ban or restrict trade in certain types of goods and products, emergency vaccination, personal protection measures.

Penalty provisions

Individuals who do not adhere to house isolation and house quarantine, as well as those entering Serbia from areas identified as epidemiologically risky and fail to notify the authorities of that fact, are liable to fines ranging from RSD 50,000 to RSD 150,000.

Penalties in the same ranges will also apply to persons who do fail to comply with a decision issued bya health inspector.

Members of the public will be fined RSD 5,000 if they fail to adhere to personal protection measures against infection, whereas legal entities are liable to fines ranging from RSD 150,000 to RSD 300,000.

Finally, the question arises as to who is going to be tasked with enforcing these measures. In addition to the health inspectors tasked with enforcing anti-epidemic measures, municipal inspectorates and community police teams will also be assigned to this task. Among other things, they will be able to issue misdemeanor warrants if measures are not complied with.  Community police teams will be able to order the vacation of any premises failing to comply with the measures and to shut down those premises until the shortcoming are addressed, but not for longer than 72 hours.