The new coronavirus should be added to the list of pandemics regulated by Malta’s criminal code, which would allow authorities to jail offenders, a top criminal lawyer has argued.

Currently, anyone caught breaking the rules faces a fine of €3,000 for every breach, if he or she is convicted in court.

But Malta’s former commissioner for laws, Franco Debono, fears the fines are not enough of a deterrent and believes the government should add COVID-19 to article 244A of Malta’s criminal code.

This would allow the authorities to impose prison sentences of up to nine years for “malicious and voluntary spreading of diseases” and six months for “negligent and careless transmission of such diseases”.

Debono said: “Any disease may be included by the minister at the stroke of a pen by means of a legal notice. The ball is in the government’s court.”

Another lawyer agreed that COVID-19 should be added to the list covered by article 244A.

He also told Times of Malta that the current sanctions are “administrative in nature”, which means that the fine cannot be imposed without the person fined having an opportunity to appeal or fight it.

That would “breach the principle of natural justice”, he said.

The rules currently in place also do not give the authorities the power to break a person’s door down to get inside the home, the lawyer said, making it harder to ascertain if quarantine has been broken. 

As the number of COVID-19 cases continued to increase, the government announced it would fine those people breaking quarantine rules. The fine was initially €1,000 but was tripled to €3,000 per infringement on Monday.

Last week, a serial quarantine-breaker was fined €9,000 after leaving his designated residence five times.

The French man was caught three times when the fine was set at €1,000 and twice more after the fine for breaking quarantine was raised to €3,000.

While the authorities did not provide any information on the case, the lawyer pointed out that the fines themselves do not stop the man from leaving the country without paying them.

In Italy, which is one of the countries worst hit by COVID-19, residents have been on lockdown since March 9. Official figures issued by the Italian authorities last week showed that more than 40,000 people have been charged with violating the quarantine rules. They now face fines or even jail time.

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