People more likely to breach quarantine if they are at home – lawyer
Research shows that people are more likely to breach quarantine if they are at home rather than under supervision in a government approved hotel, according to a lawyer.
Delroy Duncan QC made the claim yesterday during the second day of a Supreme Court hearing before Chief Justice Narinder Hargun.
Mr Duncan, acting for the Premier and health minister, was defending a Government Covid-19 public safety order under which non-vaccinated residents returning to Bermuda from overseas must quarantine at a Government-approved hotel at their own expense.
Returning residents who have been vaccinated are allowed to quarantine at home.
The order has been challenged by three applicants – Albert Brewster, Vincent Lightbourne and Wendy Warren – who claim it violates their constitutional right to freedom of movement, and also discriminates against residents who have chosen not be vaccinated.
Yesterday Mr Duncan produced a mountain of scientific evidence to demonstrate how the vaccine reduced the likelihood of contracting Covid-19 or passing it on to others.
He also produced evidence to show that quarantining for 14 days was essential in limiting the spread of the disease.
He said that other jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands, Canada, the UK and New Zealand had similar policies in place.
Mr Justice Hargun pointed out that these issues were not in dispute. He said that the crux of the applicants’ case was that quarantining could be carried out at home just as effectively as at a hotel if stringent penalties were introduced for breaches.
Mr Duncan replied that the applicants had provided no evidence to support the claim.
Lawyer Delroy Duncan QC acknowledged that the Covid-19 vaccine does not provide full protection from the disease – but added that those who had been vaccinated were unlikely to pass the virus on to others.
Mr Delroy made the admission after it was revealed that six of the last nine imported cases of Covid-19 were brought in by people who had been fully vaccinated.
During yesterday’s hearing, Mr Duncan read out an affidavit submitted by Carika Weldon, a geneticist and head of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory responsible for carrying out Covid-19 testing on the island.
In her affidavit, Dr Weldon said that there were 11,376 arrivals at the airport between June 20 and July 7, of which, 11,094 – 97.5 per cent – had been vaccinated.
Six of those vaccinated arrivals subsequently tested positive for the virus – just 0.05 per cent.
Of the 282 arrivals who had not been vaccinated, three tested positive, or 1.06 per cent.
Dr Weldon said in her affidavit: “Based on pure mathematics it is expected that more fully vaccinated persons would test positive as there is a substantially larger pool.
“The above data confirms that since June 20 an unvaccinated passenger is 19.6 times more likely to test positive than a fully vaccinated passenger.”
Dr Weldon also pointed out that contact tracing had shown that none of the six vaccinated arrivals who tested positive had passed on the virus to others – because the viral load of vaccinated carriers is so low.
In his submissions, Mr Duncan said that that fact justified Government’s policy of allowing vaccinated arrivals to quarantine at home, while unvaccinated arrivals had to undergo supervised quarantine at a Government-approved facility.
He said: “I think that is socially and politically an unattractive measure to take when you have a measure that is less of an imposition.
“If Government is seen to be ramping up legislation on prosecutions and ramping up legislation on fines, that looks even more oppressive – it is just a threat over the heads of the public.”
He said that mandatory hotel quarantining was “a measure that is calibrated to allow people to travel, come back, you quarantine for a period, and then you maintain the safety of the public because there’s no additional threat, and it’s for a limited period that the confinement takes place”.
Mr Duncan presented results of research in the UK which suggested that people quarantining at home were more likely to breach the regulation than those under supervision which “ensures stricter adherence”.
By contrast, he said, there was no evidence to support the applicants’ claim that increasing penalties would deter people from breaching regulations.
“There’s no evidence that this would reduce the number of breaches of the regulations by people leaving their homes or allowing people to come to them.”
He said: “What you have is a policy decision that has been taken by the ministry with evidence, and what you have on the other side is ‘what about this, what about that?’ with no evidence.
“There has to be some evidence in what they are doing so that the court can weigh up the two. They can’t just throw out assertions.”
Mr Duncan said: “The data and scientific evidence could not be clearer – home-based quarantine leads to increased transmission.
“This has been borne out in examples cited by the Minister of Health – the less restrictive measures likely resulted in 21 deaths. In the circumstances the court should not interfere with the requirement to quarantine in a government-authorised hotel.”
Mr Duncan acknowledged that an infringement on an individual’s right to travel was “an important one”, but added that it was only for 14 days, and had to balanced with the need to protect the public.
Mr Justice Hargun said he would deliver a judgment as soon as he was able to.