Can You Go To Jail For Spreading Corona?

March 31, 2020

As concerns around COVID-19 spreads, we take a quick look at a common question during any outbreak. Can you go to jail for spreading a contagious virus or disease?

It is rare for a person to be held criminally liable for spreading a virus, although it can happen. Knowingly spreading HIV, for instance, can lead to imprisonment. More recently, the Canadian government stated that someone who spreads COVID-19 could potentially be held criminally liable.

What are the Criminal Charges for Spreading Corona?

Not everyone who spreads the coronavirus in Canada can or will be held criminally liable. Depending on their conduct certain individuals may face criminal charges. The most likely scenario of being held criminally liable for spreading the virus is for criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm. A person that knows they are infected and recklessly or intentionally infects another person causing their death. 

Instead of the criminal charges being for the spread of the virus, liability is a result of the actions taken (or inactions) that resulted in spreading Corona. If these can be considered criminally negligent, a criminal conviction can happen – jail time may even be a possibility.

Due to the potential lethality of the coronavirus, it is possible to be charged with criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm. In the event of causing death, the sentence can range from 3 years to life imprisonment.

Can You Be Charged for Spreading Corona Unwittingly?

Accidentally or unknowingly spreading COVID-19 is very unlikely to result in criminal charges. To face criminal negligence charges you would have to act significantly different from typical or reasonable behaviour under the circumstances.

If you didn’t have good reason to suspect you have the virus, you may not be expected to follow certain precautions – such as self-quarantining. 

While it’s unlikely to face charges for accidentally spreading COVID-19, unreasonable behaviour can lead to arrests even for those without the virus. A man in Brussels was arrested for removing a coronavirus mask, licking his fingers, and wiping them on a pole in public transportation. Others have been charged with criminal mischief after pranks, such as a man on an airplane claiming he was infected with Corona and a man staging a collapse and convulsion in Moscow transit.

Common sense and decency are enough to keep most people from being held liable for spreading corona. Those who purposefully incite panic or whose actions could actively increase the risk of spread, however, may face criminal charges. 

Who Could Be Held Criminally Liable?

Globally, arrests so far have mainly involved “pranks” or spreading misinformation. In Canada, no one has been held criminally liable for spreading COVID-19. If it does happen, the most likely reason will be if the transmission occurs after they fail to comply with an explicit order or directive under public health legislation. 

A likely instance of this would be violating a quarantine. If any public health advisor or legislature has asked you to stay under quarantine, you are considered to understand the potential risk of spreading coronavirus by flaunting the quarantine. In such an instance, you could be held criminally liable.

Failure to disclose is another potential risk for criminal liability. If you have reason to suspect you have a communicable virus or disease you are expected to disclose that before engaging in any activity that could spread it. For instance, someone who has HIV must disclose this before engaging in coitus with another. Failure to disclose can lead to jail time.

Similarly, one might be expected to disclose any risk of corona before engaging in an activity that could spread it.

How To Avoid Criminal Liability For Spreading COVID-19

There is little risk of facing criminal liability for the transmission of coronavirus if you follow basic precautions. Wash your hands, abide by quarantine orders, and do not engage in pranks or mischief that could cause panic or fear.

Most of all, remain calm, but careful. As with the risk of being charged with spreading the virus, the risks of contracting COVID-19 in Canada remain low. 

To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus you can follow the simple steps outlined by Canadian public health services, especially if you’ve travelled to high-risk locations or experienced COVID-19 symptoms in the past 14 days.

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