In the US or the EU, who has to pay for a period of forced quarantine?

The question pops up due to the recent coronavirus epidemic, but I see that for previous epidemics (Ebola, SARS, MERS) authorities have already imposed a quarantine.

An extreme case would be a cleaner being quarantined in a luxury hotel. Would they be able to foot the bill?

What if the person under quarantine does not develop the illness, does this change anything?

Does the law draw a line between responsible and irresponsible behaviour (like traveling to a region hit by an epidemic)?

Are business owner liable, in the same way they are liable for accidents?

  • Can this be broadened to include Asia Pacific countries - where coronavirus is currently more prevalent? If you land in Thailand with a common cold, but get quarantined for 14 days, who foots the bill? What if you don't have travel insurance, OR they consider coronavirus a pre-existing condition? Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 23:39

2 Answers 2


Each person must comply with the law at their own cost

However, there are a lot more people involved than just the ones directly affected by the quarantine. Travelers may have travel insurance. Employees may have workers' compensation rights and may or may not be entitled to wages depending on their contract of employment.

Speaking of contracts, the quarantine would be a force majeure event. In civil law jurisdictions (like much of the EU) such an event relieves contracting parties of the obligations they cannot fulfill because of it. This is not the case in common law jurisdictions (like most of the USA) and what happens depends on what the contract says about them. When force majeure has not been provided for in the contract (or the relevant event does not fall within the scope of the force majeure clause), and a supervening event prevents performance, it will be a breach of contract. So, for example, in a contract requiring delivery of a product that couldn't happen because of the quarantine, the non-delivery would not be a breach of contract in Europe but would be (unless the contract said otherwise) in the USA.

Of course, if the quarantine were not lawful, there may be a cause of action against the government.


In the US, the CDC will bill an individual's health insurance provider, but the government absorbs the cost otherwise (possibly passing the costs on to Medicaid). It is not clear whether the military bases where quarantinees are sent will charge the CDC room and board (to be passed on to insurance companies, Medicaid or other outlets). Since the last quarantine order in the US was 50 years ago, for smallpox we are in kind of uncharted territory. In the hypothetical scenario where housekeeping staff in a luxury hotel are stuck there for a 2 week quarantine, the employer (hotel) bears the cost for complying with a government order that nobody can leave the hotel.

The quarantine order states that

Components of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), together with state and local public health partners, will arrange for adequate food and water, a continued place to stay on [place of quarantine], medical treatment, and a way for you to communicate with a family member or another representative while you are held in federal quarantine.

which in lieu of a statement that you must reimburse the government is reasonably to be interpreted as a promise to arrange and cover costs, not just arrange. 42 USC 249 states that

(a) Any person when detained in accordance with quarantine laws, or, at the request of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, any person detained by that Service, may be treated and cared for by the Public Health Service...

(c) Persons whose care and treatment is authorized by subsection (a) may, in accordance with regulations, receive such care and treatment at the expense of the Service from public or private medical or hospital facilities other than those of the Service, when authorized by the officer in charge of the station at which the application is made.

The question of whether an individual will be required to reimburse the government for risky behavior depends on the nature of the existing government order. I don't believe that the CDC has the authority to prohibit travel to some place (such as Wuhan), though if it is in the US they can prohibit entry into said place. Of course, the law can change with circumstances.

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