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Travel vaccination rules could face legal challenge

Mark Pettingill (Photo by Akil Simmons)

The Government could face legal action over a plan to force non-vaccinated arrivals to quarantine in special centres at their own expense.

Mark Pettingill, a lawyer and former Attorney-General, said the proposal was “draconian” and that he had 15 clients prepared to file a constitutional challenge if the Government pushed ahead.

Mr Pettingill added: “It’s incarceration. It might not be in a prison cell, but its still incarceration – it’s still institutionalisation.”

He said that the Constitution allowed the Government to infringe on the public’s freedom of movement to tackle a public health threat – but that the infringements must be reasonable.

Mr Pettingill added: “Many reasonable people take the view that this is nothing more than a pressure tactic to get vaccinated.

“The people I am representing are, for their own reasons, not wanting to get the vaccine, but sure as heck, after 14 months, having saved some money for an annual vacation, would like to leave the country.

“They cannot afford to come back and spend two weeks in an institution at their expense, and it may be, in those instances, that this heavy handed approach of enforced quarantine is going to make them feel the pressure, make them feel they have no option but get the vaccine.”

He said: “When you look at all the factors around it, it is an inappropriate pressurisation of people to get the vaccine.”

Mr Pettingill was speaking after David Burt, the Premier, announced on Sunday that all non-immunised travellers – including returned residents – would have to undergo a two-week supervised quarantine in a Government designated centre at their own expense from June 6.

Mr Pettingill said that the Government had done a commendable job in its response to Covid-19, the proposal was a step too far.

He added: “If you have a family where one of the parents is vaccinated and the other is not and they return to Bermuda they are both subject to having Covid-19 tests.

“If they are both negative and both the children are negative, the situation would arise where one parent and the children go home and the other parent is institutionalised.”

Mr Pettingill said it made more sense to allow residents to quarantine at home with sanctions for breaches.

He added: “What you will find is most people are law abiding citizens, particularly when they have the threat of being severely fined or imprisoned.

“People know that the Government is rightly taking this seriously and acting in the interest of public health, but these things need to be done on the basis that they are sensible and reasonable.

“This just doesn’t appear to be reasonable when there is a very valid alternative of self-imposed quarantine.”

Mr Pettingill said thousands of Bermudians who represented a wide cross-section, did not want vaccination for a variety of reasons, including on medical and religious grounds.

He highlighted that some of the people who had contacted him about the proposal were pregnant women concerned about the safety of their unborn children.

Mr Pettingill said: “Yes, people say it’s safe, but people also said thalidomide was safe. Many were treated with it to treat their morning sickness and many babies were affected.”

He added the Government might be able to introduce some differences in treatment between those who were vaccinated and non-vaccinated.

Mr Pettingill said: “If you take the view those who are not immunised should have a longer period at home because the science indicates they are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, then we can see why their period may be longer or they may require more testing.”

But he insisted: “What is being proposed is not logical, and it’s not even good science.”

Mr Pettingill said the plan was virtual imprisonment for people who decided not to get the vaccine.

He added: “On my research, never in the history of the world have people who have tested negative for a disease been placed in forced quarantine.

“Never before have healthy people been placed in forced quarantine. That is significant.”

The Human Rights Commission earlier this week warned against discrimination based on vaccination status.

The HRC added that the Government had to allow for personal circumstances before it drafted legislation to create vaccine passports.

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Published May 01, 2021 at 8:05 am (Updated May 01, 2021 at 8:13 am)

Travel vaccination rules could face legal challenge

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