The National Assembly’s Health Rights Commission has completed the first draft of the Pandemic Health Emergency Law, with debate by the full Assembly scheduled to begin in early January. “This is urgent legislation because of the Covid-19 emergency,” Assembly President Guadalupe Llori said Wednesday. “It is my intention to send the final law to the president by mid-February.”
Llori said recent questions about the legality of government-ordered pandemic restrictions, particularly vaccine mandates, must be addressed in the new law.
“The Ministry of Health and the COE [Emergency Operations Committee] are basing their rules on a 15-year-old law that did not consider pandemic conditions and predated the 2008 Constitution,” she said. “The new legislation must consider health emergencies such as the pandemic, balancing the responsibility of the national government to protect public health against the authority of autonomous local governments and individual rights.”
In addition to providing guidelines for the rules and penalties ordered by the government, the new law must delineate the responsibilities of municipalities and provincial prefects in administering rules based on the law, according to one of the bill’s authors. “In the case of the Covid pandemic, there has been confusion about the legal authority of national and local authority,” says Marco Molina, chair of the Health Rights Commission. “It is our job to end that confusion.”
The new law must also comply with an April ruling by the Constitutional Court that health-related states of emergency must focus on affected geographic areas and cannot be ordered for indefinite periods of time. The court ordered an end to former president Lenin Moreno’s extension of a nationwide health emergency, saying its justification was too vague and that it violated the rights of citizens.
According to Molina, the draft legislation also incorporates the court’s provisions to provide special protection to children, the elderly and the disabled, migrants and prisoners who are confined in close quarters during health emergencies.
Some assemblymembers speculate that the new legislation may be outdated by the time it becomes law. “The way the recovery from the virus is going, it may not be necessary for this pandemic,” Molina says. “At least it will be in place for the next one.”