Anyone caught intentionally spreading coronavirus in the UAE could face up to five years in prison, according to the country’s law on contagious diseases.
The law on communicable diseases, introduced in 2014, criminalises any “intentional behaviour that results in spreading an infection”.
"The penalty for this is up to five years in prison and/or a fine not less than Dh50,000 and not more than Dh100,000," said Ghassan El Daye, partner and head of litigation Middle East for UK law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.
If the offence was repeated, judges may double the offender's prison term.
Though the law came into effect six years ago, lawyers say it applies to Covid-19.
Mr El Daye said Article 31 of the law prohibits those who know they have an infectious disease from travelling, or leaving a health facility they may be checked into, without prior approval from authorities.
"But it's a must, according to law, for those arriving into the country, who know they have been infected, to notify authorities on arrival," he said.
The law also requires anyone who has been infected to inform authorities of their status. If they know who gave them the infectious disease or if they may have intentionally or unintentionally passed it on, they must legally disclose that information too.
"Offenders of these articles can face up to three years in jail and a fine between Dh10,000 and Dh50,000," Mr El Daye said.
The law also makes it obligatory for members of the public to report any suspected cases or deaths resulting from a communicable disease or risk being sentenced to three years in jail and/or fined no more than Dh10,000.
"Its highly important that all act ethically responsible by following procedures announced by the authorities," said Mr El Daye.
“[People should] avoid spreading rumours, report any suspicious cases, seek medical help and avoid contact with others if they are infected to avoid legal accountability.”
Should a person pass on an infectious disease to someone else who then dies as a result, the offender would be prosecuted according to the communicable diseases law as well as the country's penal code, said Emirati lawyer Yousef Al Bahar, head of Al Bahar and Associates Advocates.
He said the person in question would be charged with intentionally infecting another and causing a wrongful death.
"The penalty according to article 342 of UAE Penal Code is up to three years in prison for causing wrongful death but, if more than three people have died as a result of the offence, the prison term will increase to five years," he said.
This week, the UAE Attorney General, Dr Hamad Al Shamsi, warned the public against non-compliance with the precautionary measures put in place by authorities to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
He said breaking the mandatory self-isolation, put in place for recent travellers, is a punishable crime and puts others at risk.