(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – THE 12,000 residents under quarantine in Seven and Eight Miles in Bull Bay, St Andrew, are being urged to remain inside their houses and not wander about the locked-down neighbourhood as the Government steps up efforts to contain community spread of the COVID-19, a respiratory virus.
There are now 12 confirmed cases in Jamaica.
“If they have to leave [their individual houses and immediate yard space] it should only be for essential matters,” Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. “But they are still required to stay within the mapped-out boundaries of the communities, which are now manned by the security forces.”
She added that a message is being crafted, to be delivered by town criers, to urge residents to remain inside their homes. Since the lockdown, which began last Friday, video footage has shown residents moving freely about the quarantined area, raising questions about the possibility of spreading the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among themselves. “The essential thing is to maintain distance and prevent contact,” said the attorney general.
Since last Friday, 269 households in Bull Bay have been visited by health officials who have conducted 642 interviews. One additional person has shown symptoms and has been sent to isolation, according to figures released yesterday during a media briefing on the nation’s COVID-19 response.
Asked what the next step would be if Bull Bay residents fail to heed calls to remain indoors, Malahoo Forte said: “The area is manned by the security forces. They are there to enforce the measures.”
The lockdown is being implemented under sections of the 2015 Disaster Risk Management Act as well as aspects of both the Public Health Act and the Quarantine Act. But questions have been raised about whether the Government is within the law in asking residents to remain inside their houses if they have no symptoms of the virus labelled by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.
“I think there can be some measure of restrictions [under the Public Health Act]. I wouldn’t say it is absolutely clear, and I think more is being made of what the acts authorise than on the face of it is permissible. But it does give some measure of authority to restrict movement, which could possibly be used in that way,” said constitutional attorney Dr Lloyd Barnett. “The question [is] whether you can say to a person that [he] can’t leave [his] home, unless you have specific [information] that that person is infected. And is that a general thing that nobody in the area can leave their home? Is this different from controlling the spread of infection by that particular person? If a person is not a suspect, to be confined in that way, I doubt that that is permissible.”
He made it clear, though, that when weighing individual rights versus the public good, the Government was within reason to require residents to remain inside.
The yardstick, he said, was the measures being implemented in other free and fair democracies where “severe restrictions” are now being imposed.