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$2000 fine, 6 months in prison if you break quarantine

$2000 fine, 6 months in prison if you break quarantine

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by Bria King

Anyone caught breaking quarantine in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will be liable to a $2000 fine and six months imprisonment.

This was one of several amendments to Public Health (Amendment) Act (2020) which was passed in Parliament this week, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in his presentation to the House, noted that the previous Act (the Public Health Act of 1977) said that recalcitrant persons who willfully expose themselves and put the public in danger of contracting a communicable disease were liable to a fine not exceeding $100 or imprisonment not exceeding three months. 

“But this law which is now before us, this amendment … there’s a raft of provisions which such behaviour could be captured under and which will be punished under Clause 27Y — $2000 or six months…” Gonsalves said. 

In addition to the enhanced nature of the punishments, the Prime Minister noted that every day on which an individual breaks quarantine would be considered a new offence. 

Therefore, a person could be charged for every day quarantine is broken. 

“So if you commit the offence on a Friday, you could be charged. On a Saturday, you could be charged. On a Sunday, you could be charged — of course it’s up to the magistrate to decide…the full $2000 on every occasion and whatever punishment imprisonment,” he said. 

Gonsalves added that “this amendment before us would say to people, you cannot do foolishness and get away with it as you want.”

SVG to date, has eight confirmed cases of COVID-19. It is reported that the second confirmed case was a woman who disobeyed orders given by health officials and broke quarantine. 

The woman, a Vincentian who travelled from New York, is said to have had contact with more than 100 people during the times she broke her quarantine. 

Gonsalves told Parliament on April 7 that once the Public Health (Amendment) Act is passed, it would go through all the administrative processes including with the clerk of the House, the Governor General and being gazetted, so that it could become law by this weekend. 

And he said the amendment to the Act was part of his government’s attempt to strengthen the legal and institutional instruments. 

The prime minister noted other measures put in place by other Caribbean leaders in an attempt to address persons who breach quarantine. 

He said some countries want to implement stronger measures such as declarations of disaster areas and curfews and while those measures may be satisfactory to their circumstances, it is yet to be seen whether those instruments are what is best for this occasion. 

“I’m not critiquing them. I’m just saying are they the best instruments? But we have to strengthen our instruments, short of doing certain other extreme matters and this legislation, this amendment is a tough one. The provisions are very strong,” Gonsalves said. 

He also said that “the Attorney General’s office has certified that these provisions are reasonably required for a public purpose, that is to say…the maintenance of good public health and the provisions are reasonably justifiable in a democratic society…” 

Luke Browne, the minister of Health and mover of the Act, said that it was an attempt to bring amendments to a law that has been in place since 1977. 

Browne said that Sections 26 and 27 of the older version have been repealed and replaced with more thorough and comprehensive provisions. 

These two sections deal with isolation and quarantine respectively, in cases of notifiable communicable diseases. 
The health minister said that the amendments being proposed as it relates to quarantine are an indication of how his ministry has been dealing with the situation presently. 

He explained that if any person who may considered to be in the incubation period of any notifiable communicable disease and is not taking adequate steps to guard against the spread of the disease may be removed by order of a magistrate and detained in a place of isolation until a health officer determines that they are free from infection and can be discharged without danger to public health. 

“Mr Speaker, what has been happening …persons asked to abide in quarantine, if they violated the terms of that quarantine as requested, a court order may be issued,” Browne said. “And if there is a violation of the order…that person could be charged for contempt of court…”

He said the specifics of that charge were not established in the older version of the legislation and is one of the deficiencies being corrected by the amendment where the charge could be in the form of a fine or imprisonment. 

The health minister also noted other amendments in his presentation. This includes an adjustment to Schedule 1 of the Act to add COVID-19 to the list of notifiable communicable diseases. 

Another amendment involves the addition of a distinct definition of quarantine, which was not found in the earlier legislation. 

“Any move that helps to protect the public in this time, we all have seen the carnage that COVID-19 has wreaked all over the world, any tools that help to protect the public in St Vincent and the Grenadines in these circumstances have to be considered, so long as they are balanced with protecting public health and individual rights,” Dr Godwin Friday, the Leader of the Opposition said in his response to the Act. 

He said that he understands the amendments made are to help provide more tools to the Chief Medical Officer and Minister of Health to isolate and quarantine persons who may be carriers of virus or who have ben known to be in contact with persons of this nature. 

And he said the Act, more importantly, protects the general public in times of health crises where there is a communicable disease that threatens public health. 

Friday said the circumstances were very serious and “many of the short comings we have complained about, not just in this House, but over the past several weeks had to do with the coming into the country of persons who may be suspected of having COVID-19, persons who have been in contact with such persons”. 

“And in the absence of secured borders, that is the closed borders we have called for, the other alternative, Mr Speaker is to have quarantine facilities, quarantine regulations, quarantine laws available to quarantine persons who come into the country or who are suspected of having been in contact with persons who may be carriers of the coronavirus,” the Opposition Leader said.  

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