More severe penalties coming for breaching health laws

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says the Government will be increasing the penalties for breaching public health laws.

The Acts that could be affected include the Emergency Powers Act, Disaster Risk Management Act, and the Quarantine Act.

Holness had initially announced the move at last Friday’s daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic at Jamaica House.

He said that the Government was hoping that it would not have to rely on enforcement to ensure that the laws are observed, but it has become increasingly clear that the State will have to resort to those measures for the laws to be observed.

He said Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte and Justice Minister Delroy Chuck have been assigned the task of reviewing the various fines applicable to breaches of the public health laws.

“Some of these fines are outdated. So, on Tuesday we hope to come to Parliament with adjustments to the fines and penalties and have them put in place, because we are not going to allow any one individual to put the nation’s health at risk,” Holness said.

He had told the briefing earlier that although his job as prime minister is not to scare the nation, it has become evident that enforcement is necessary to ensure that the provisions of the various acts are obeyed.

“My job is not to see the premature shutdown of the economy. So, in managing the health issues we are also managing the economic issues — because both are related, and you wouldn’t want to put people under quarantine, or shutdown, and production stops and people can’t get food, and then you have another form of crisis on your hands,” he told the briefing.

He said he expects that there are people who are going to take a different view, believing that the Government is overreacting and not understanding that everyone has not yet grasped the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are doing it in a way that we are trying to bring everybody along with us. We are hoping that we don’t have to use enforcement measures, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me, every day, that we will have to use enforcement measures  because there are persons whose behaviour is putting the nation’s good at risk, and that is crystal clear to me,” he said.

Last Thursday, following his budget speech, the House of Representatives appointed an oversight committee to support efforts to bring the COVID-19 threat under control.

The committee, which is chaired by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, will include government members Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, Dr Norman Dunn, Juliet Holness, and Marisa Dalrymple Philibert; and Opposition Members of Parliament Dr Morais Guy, Mark Golding, Horace Dalley, and Angela Brown Burke, Leader of the House, Karl Samuda, told members that the committee can be empowered to hold virtual meetings utilising the available information and communications technology.

Under Section 10 (1) (b) of the current Quarantine Act, anyone who “refuses or wilfully omits to do any act which he is required to do by this Act, or refuses or wilfully omits to carry out any lawful order, instruction or condition made, given or imposed by any officer or other person acting under the authority of this Act” shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction before a resident magistrate, to a fine of $500,000, or to imprisonment with hard labour for six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.

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