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Some quarantine rules could be eased next week

Mandatory supervised quarantine regulations could be relaxed as early as next week after the Chief Justice yesterday dismissed a legal challenge to the controversial policy.

Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday evening, the Premier said that with almost 65 per cent of the population now vaccinated against Covid-19, “there will be revisions to the approach to the policy on supervised quarantine”.

David Burt said: “It is my expectation that as soon as next week, we will be positioned to announce these changes, setting out clearly how we can pivot on the basis of the success of our vaccination programme, and the effectiveness achieved in mitigating the risk against dangerous variants entering Bermuda’s population.

“These changes will address adjustments that can be made immediately, changes that will come into place when we reach 65 per cent of our population being immunised and most importantly, what the supervised quarantine regime will look like when 70 per cent of the population are immunised or when the current quarantine order expires on September 30.”

Mr Burt spoke out after a legal challenge to the controversial order was thrown out by the Chief Justice, Narinder Hargun.

Lawyers representing three Bermuda residents challenging the order claimed Government had failed to prove that mandatory hotel quarantining for non-vaccinated residents returning from overseas was “a reasonable requirement” to protect public safety.

Under the order, non-vaccinated residents who travel abroad must stay in a Government-designated hotel for 14 days when they arrive back in Bermuda, at their own expense. Vaccinated residents can quarantine at home.

But Mr Justice Hargun rejected the case, saying government had acted reasonably in the face of a public health crisis.

Mr Burt said: “Governance during a once-in-a-century pandemic is challenging, and policymakers must be nimble to adapt to changing circumstances.

“In the three months since the Government’s quarantine policy was first announced Bermuda is in a different situation.

“Three months ago 37 per cent of the population were immunised. Today that number stands at just under 65 per cent.

“I am proud of the progress that we have made, and proud of our persistence in sticking to the principle of leaving vaccinations up to the individual to choose.”

In today’s ruling, Mr Justice Hargun said: “Having regard to the findings made by the Court in this Judgment, the Applicants’ application for a declaration that the mandatory quarantine for unvaccinated travellers implemented pursuant to the Quarantine (Covid 19) Amendment (No. 2) order 2021 violates the Applicants’ fundamental right to freedom of movement pursuant to section 11 of the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968 is hereby dismissed.”

In the earlier hearing at Supreme Court, Courtenay Griffiths QC, who was representing Albert Brewster, Vincent Lightbourne and Wendy Warren, argued that the decline in Covid cases “illustrates that Bermuda’s Covid-19 situation is not one which requires measures as extreme and coercive and unreasonable as mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine”.

He told the court that it was “breathtaking and patronising” for Government to suggest that his clients’ objections to the order were “trivial”.

Mark Pettingill, who was also representing the trio, pointed out that, under the current order, someone arriving at the airport who had been vaccinated but tested positive could quarantine at home. Conversely, someone who had not been vaccinated and tested negative would have to quarantine at a hotel.

Mr Pettingill said that his clients were not opposed to quarantining – but questioned why they could not do so in their own homes.

In his statement this yesterday, Mr Burt said that “democracy has emerged as the victor” of the hearing.

He said: “In this case citizens of this Island exercised that democratic right and in a fair, transparent review of the evidence the Court has made a determination.

“The Government’s case met the required test and the evidence provided in support of the actions taken to keep this country safe has satisfied the Supreme Court of Bermuda of its foundation in Bermuda law and the Bermuda Constitution.

“The determination of this matter in the Courts now provides the opportunity for the Government to continue its efforts to revise policies that meet the public health situation presented in this period of the pandemic and reflect the success of our vaccination programme.”

This morning, pressure group Constitutional Freedom Bermuda, issued a statement saying the ruling would be “vigorously appealed”.

The statement said: “This whole ordeal has revealed the true level of deception deployed by our current Government. This is about more than Covid-19 and vaccinations. This is about human rights and the extent to which a government can impede on those rights.

“To the many Bermudians who have been affected by this PLP Government’s arrogant and careless breach of human rights, we support you and thank you for your continued support.

“For the sake of Bermuda’s future, we cannot and will not allow the Government to set this dangerous precedent. The fight for human rights and justice continues.”

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Published July 24, 2021 at 8:03 am (Updated July 24, 2021 at 8:03 am)

Some quarantine rules could be eased next week

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