Fines, Jail Time and Sackings: What Happens When People Break Coronavirus Quarantines Around the World

The global spread of the new coronavirus has prompted governments to impose tight restrictions on their citizens, hoping that stopping — or at least slowing — the spread of the pandemic can save national health systems from collapsing.

Governments have introduced harsh penalties for those breaking imposed isolation. The virus is far deadlier for elderly people or those with pre-existing health conditions, so officials are seeking to deter anyone from breaking isolation and spreading COVID-19. This will slow the increase in infections, known as "flattening the curve," offering respite for national health systems.

National lockdowns are becoming the norm, with large gatherings banned, non-essential shops, bars, and restaurants closed, and school children sent home. Almost 200,000 infections have been confirmed worldwide according to Johns Hopkins University, with nearly 8,000 deaths and 82,000 recoveries, as shown in the Statista infographic below.

This graph, provided by Statista, shows the confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, as of March 17. Statista

China — where the virus originated — was the first nation to introduce aggressive measures to control the spread of COVID-19, shutting down cities and quarantining tens of millions of people. Beijing used its mass surveillance systems to monitor peoples' movements and track the course of the virus.

Reports emerged of guards stationed at the entrance to residential buildings to keep people inside, and footage appeared to show workers in hazmat suits grabbing suspected infected people from their homes and taking them away to quarantine.

The situation has now eased in China, and some of the stricter restrictions have been lifted. But it remains unclear whether such measures will need to be reintroduced to deal with subsequent waves of the virus.

Italy is the worst affected nation outside of China. The whole country is now under lockdown and residents can only go outside if they need to buy food or medicine. A person must carry a form explaining why they need to be outside. Those found in violation can be fined roughly $227 or jailed for three months. More than 20,000 people have already been issued fines, according to The Guardian.

One Italian man is facing a 12 year jail term for hiding the fact that he had coronavirus so he could have a rhinoplasty. Multiple doctors and nurses were infected in the process.

Spain is also grappling with soaring infection numbers, and has imposed tight isolation measures on its population under a state of national emergency. Police and soldiers have been deployed to enforce the lockdown, with videos emerging of officers struggling to force tourists to comply.

Spanish authorities have arrested at least 73 people and fined another 3,270 for breaking isolation rules, according to El Diario. Fines can run from $658 to $33,000 or up to four years in jail for those found breaching the containment laws under the state of national emergency.

French officials will issue fines of up to $148 for those found in breach of the order to stay at home. Some 100,000 extra police will also be deployed to French streets to enforce the lockdown announced this week to try and slow the coronavirus spread.

In Norway, those found breaking isolation rules could be fined up to $2,000 or jailed for 15 days, according to Forbes. Anyone caught staying outside of their home — for example in a country cabin — could be fined $1,500 or jailed for 10 days in a bid to protect rural health services. Anyone found organizing large events will also be fined.

Punishments in Australia vary by state, but those breaking self-isolation also face jail time and fines. According to BBC News, those in violation in Western Australia could be slapped with a $30,000 penalty.

In India, officials in Maharashtra state have said that all those ordered into self-isolation will be stamped on the left hand to denote their quarantine and aid enforcement.

Other nations are trying to stop new arrivals from bringing the coronavirus with them. Saudi Arabia has introduced a $133,000 fine for any travelers failing to declare correct health information when arriving in the country. New Zealand has also warned that any travelers who do not follow self-isolation rules upon arrival could be fined or even deported.

Private companies and non-governmental groups are also taking a stand against those violating self-isolation rules. In China, for example, the Bayer pharmaceutical company has said it will fire one of its workers after they posted a video of themselves jogging outside with no mask.

And in South Korea, the Korean National Ballet fired a dancer for traveling to Japan while they should have been in self-isolation.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
Spain, coronavirus, France, enforcement, quarantine, isolation, punishment
A Spanish police officer and a Spanish civil guard are pictured during a quarantine enforcement operation in Hendaye, France, on March 17, 2020. GAIZKA IROZ/AFP via Getty Images/Getty