Along with rising levels of the infection around the world, the state of emergency prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has also been having a heavy legal impact. The situation is posing important criminal challenges, as well as an ocean of social and public health issues around the world. It has not only directly affected constitutionally-guaranteed rights and individual freedoms, but also brought to the fore certain types of criminal offence that had previously been of little practical importance, such as the crime of ‘maliciously or unintentionally causing an epidemic’. Different countries and states have introduced policies to manage the emergency at different times and in different ways. The measures adopted have been the object of much criticism, also raising questions of constitutional legitimacy in countries like Italy. The present contribution begins with a brief outline of the different international scenarios. Then we examine some of the medicolegal aspects of criminal offences previously envisaged and newly introduced since the arrival of the pandemic. We suggest the need for a sort of ‘code of public health laws for the time of coronavirus’, that could also be applied to other public health emergencies, pandemic or otherwise. The idea is to give operators in the sector and the general population the opportunity to identify clear and simple rules to follow in the current complex global situation. We need a new, appropriate interpretation of the ‘boundaries’ of our individual rights in relation to the need to safeguard the wider community and its more vulnerable members.
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