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Our View: What more powers does the health minister need?

Υπουργός Υγείας – Δηλώσεις για τις
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas

The health minister Michalis Hadjipantelas will return to the House health committee in a couple of weeks with amendments and changes made to the bill on Dangerous and Infectious Diseases. The minister said he had listened to all the parties and the concerns of the deputies and would return with some of the changes discussed at the meeting.

The bill would give sweeping powers to the health minister for dealing with an infectious disease, and deputies expressed concerns that the legislature would be “put on ice” if the bill was passed, something Hadjipantelas tried to play down. He said that in a pandemic, the legislature would have to give its prior approval and would be briefed regularly by the minister. In short, the health minister would have sweeping powers once the legislature gave its approval.

Chairperson of the committee, Disy’s Savia Orphanidou, fully backed the bill, arguing that the law on contagious diseases had to be updated as it had been in force since 1932. The experiences of the last two years must be used to enhance and modernize the law and the purpose was to “maintain the alertness that exists today, with the government issuing decrees so as to deal immediately with the pandemic, as it had to do in the last two years.”

Why is there a need for the updating of the law of 1932? This law gave unprecedented powers to the health minister and allowed rule by decree. The government imposed lockdowns, closed down businesses, restricted the movement of citizens, made state permission necessary for anyone to leave their home, banned the unvaccinated from all venues, forced people to undergo tests, wear face-masks outdoor and to show their ID to enter most places.

What more powers does the health minister need? The 1932 law allowed the state to act like a totalitarian regime that could deprive us of our rights and liberties just by issuing a decree – without any checks or controls – on the grounds that it was protecting public health. Would the modernized law allow the government to put people that violate a decree in prison without trial perhaps? Hadjipantelas did not elaborate about the provision that would allow the state to restrict human rights across the board, as in the case of war; there was also provision for suspending the operation of the legislature and judiciary.

Only Akel took a stand against the new law that, its deputy, Giorgos Loucaides, said gave more far-reaching powers to the government than those allowed in a war situation. We hope other parties would recognize the dangers to our liberties by the new law on dangerous and infectious diseases, which are at the discretion of the government to identify; it might be flu. As has been proved in the last two years, the existing law gives more than enough powers for the executive to deal with a pandemic, so there is no justification for a new law providing even more powers.

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