Deputy calls for legal amendments to better deal with future pandemics

Chen Huizhi
Laws need to be amended to streamline epidemic control measures and to ensure the protection of privacy.
Chen Huizhi

Laws need to be amended to streamline epidemic control measures in China and to ensure the protection of privacy during the process, according to Liu Yan, vice president of Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital, who is a deputy to the National People’s Congress from Shanghai.

Liu said the epidemic report mechanism should be simplified.

Under current law for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, a disease control institution shall report an epidemic to the local health administration which then informs the local government as well as its superior institution and the health administration of the State Council.

Liu advised that the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention be authorized to report epidemic cases directly to the State Council and that the center appoint a top infectious disease expert as the reporting officer of infectious diseases who is authorized to report directly to the State Council.

Also, the national infectious disease and public health emergency monitoring and reporting system should be given a legal status, Liu said. The system was established after the SARS epidemic in 2003 under national and local governments, and enables doctors to directly report cases of infectious diseases or unknown diseases to the national center for disease control and prevention.

Meanwhile, measures to restrict residents who are not patients, which proved to be effective in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, need to be legalized for future cases, she said.

The current law only authorizes governments above the county level to implement measures against infectious diseases. During the novel coronavirus epidemic, restriction measures were also implemented by some town and district governments and even residential committees.

Also, the law stipulates isolation measures only for patients, pathogen carriers, suspected patients and close contacts of patients, while some other people were also ordered to be isolated to combat the coronavirus epidemic.

"It's undeniable that significant results were achieved through these strict measures, but isolating people is a kind of restriction of their personal freedom and should be implemented within legal frameworks," Liu said.

According to the current law, only disease control and prevention centers and medical institutions are authorized to carry out investigations of individuals and organizations. However, in practice, residential committees and telecom, railway and civil aviation operators also assist the investigation by providing travel information to the authorities.

The law should clarify who is authorized to collect the information and which information can be released to the public, Liu suggested.

For rainy days

The extreme shortage of basic medical supplies such as protective suits and goggles, ethanol and disinfectant in hospitals at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak hint at the inadequacy of contingency material preparations in China.

In a suggestion filed with the government which she jointly penned with her fellow deputy Wang Wei, deputy general manager of Shanghai Textile Decoration Co of Orient International Co, Liu called for an integration of the resources of government and market to reduce the potential material challenge during the next public health emergency.

The major materials stored for emergencies in China at the moment are tents, winter clothes, quilts and rescue appliances. The contingency supply of necessary goods during the epidemic suffered from the fragmentation of supply chains for manufacturing and a lack of systematic support for logistics, according to the two deputies.

The national government should lead the effort in integrating resources and ensure that goods needed for emergencies can be produced and collected within a short time. The government should be entitled to use the transportation vehicles of private logistics company to deliver goods, the deputies said. 

The deputies also called for the country to align standards of key medical products such as masks with those in other countries so as to reduce export disputes in future.

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