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Doctors to be able to give evidence in Covid quarantine trial

Back in court: Michael Watson and his wife, Sophia Cannonier, arriving at an earlier court hearing (File photograph)

The trial of a couple who refused to quarantine in a government-approved facility during the Covid-19 pandemic will resume next month after a magistrate ruled that medical witnesses for the defence could give evidence.

Sophia Cannonier and her husband, Michael Watson, are charged with breaching public safety regulations after returning from a trip overseas in July 2021 at the height of the pandemic.

The Government had earlier passed emergency powers ruling that travellers who had not been vaccinated had to spend 14 days in quarantine at one of six government-approved hotels — at their own expense.

Testifying during the trial last year, Ms Cannonier said her family had contracted the virus six months before travelling overseas. She said that blood tests showed the presence of antibodies and it was therefore not necessary to take the vaccine as the family had obtained natural immunity.

The proceedings, which have dragged on for almost a year, continued before Magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo at a hearing yesterday in which legal arguments over the admissibility of evidence were heard.

For the defence, Marc Daniels, of Marc Geoffrey Barristers, said that three doctors who were experts in blood work analysis should be able to testify.

Alan Richards, for the Crown, had argued that the evidence was irrelevant. He said that while the couple could have mounted a defence for failing to obey the emergency order because of circumstances beyond their control, there was no defence for deliberately refusing to follow the regulation.

Mr Richards also referred to a 2021 ruling by the Chief Justice in which the emergency regulation was lawful because of the threat the virus posed to public safety.

Critics had condemned the measure as a breach of human rights and discriminatory, pointing out that vaccinated travellers were allowed to quarantine at home at no cost.

But Mr Daniels insisted that the Covid antibody evidence was “the fundamental basis” of the defence case that would show that they had a “reasonable excuse” to not follow the rule.

He added: “What the genesis of where we are right now is that as part of our defence we will raise various planks that may be construed as a reasonable excuse, for example whether someone has the financial mechanism and means to go into a quarantine facility.“

Mr Daniels pointed out that, throughout the pandemic, politicians had repeatedly told the public to get advice from their physician about the vaccine — and that that was exactly what the couple had done.

Mr Tokunbo eventually agreed with the defence, saying that the doctors could take the stand.

Giving testimony during the trial last year, Ms Cannonier stressed that blood tests showed that the family were immune from the virus.

She said: “We had all had prior infections and therefore we knew that we should be treated like someone who had had an injection against Covid-19.”

The couple had also claimed that, after being out of work for many months as a result of the pandemic, they could not afford to quarantine at a hotel.

However, the family did quarantine in their own home after returning from overseas.

The couple have pleaded not guilty to a refusal to comply with a mandatory quarantine regulations and failure to complete a Travel Authorisation form on July 11, 2021.

They have also pleaded not guilty to leaving their home before the end of their quarantine period.

Ms Cannonier has further denied allowing unauthorised people to visit her on the same day.

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