Legal heavyweights clash over plan to quarantine arrivals in Government centres
A lawyer has backed plans to quarantine arrivals without a Covid-19 vaccination at a special Government centre.
Mark Diel said that public safety considerations had to override personal freedom in a crisis.
Mr Diel, of law firm Marshall, Diel & Myers, admitted that the move was “contentious” and raised constitutional rights questions.
But he insisted it was the most effective way of putting the brakes on the pandemic.
Mr Diel was speaking after a Government announcement that anyone who arrived on the island without a vaccination from June 6 would have to stay in an approved hotel for 14 days at their own expense rather than quarantine at home.
The measure was branded as “draconian” by Mark Pettingill, a former Attorney-General, who claimed it amounted to incarceration.
Mr Pettingill added that he had 15 clients prepared to file a constitutional challenge if the Government pushed ahead with the plan.
He accused the Government of punishing people for not getting vaccinated and using the threat of a financial penalty to make them get the jab.
Mr Diel admitted that the proposal did represent a hindrance to freedom of movement, “and a serious one at that”.
But he added: “The question becomes – is it an actual breach of that right given that we are in a pandemic with new and more virulent strains of the virus now wreaking havoc in places such as Brazil and India?
“Many constitutional rights are subject to certain exceptions.
“In the case of freedom of movement those freedoms can be limited where is reasonably necessary for public health or public safety.”
Mr Diel said: “It becomes a question then of fact and degree – the severity of the risk to public health verses the hindrance to the freedom of movement.”
He added that quarantine at home had proved ineffective, and that there had been several breaches that had resulted in a spike in infections.
Mr Diel said: “We have seen how attempts to isolate at home were not effective.
“There were numerous examples of super spreader events such as the party at the Botanical Gardens and the large house party attended by someone who had just arrived back on the island and tested positive.
“If memory serves, the latter had some 80 cases linked to it.”
Mr Diel also highlighted reports of a case last weekend where a resident arrived back and broke the quarantine rules.
He said: “No one, I am sure – least of all me – wants people to have to be isolated in a Government-regulated facility at their own expense.”
But Mr Diel asked: “What are the other realistic options that would effectively keep out new and more virulent strains of Covid from the island?”
He said that monitoring non-vaccinated arrivals in special centres would be easier to police – and less of a cost to taxpayers.
Mr Diel asked: “Is electronic tagging and monitoring at home a reliable way of monitoring people? Who would pay for that? The Government and thus the tax payers at large?”
He dismissed suggestions that anti-vaccination campaigners were being penalised for obstruction of Government attempts to persuade everyone to get the jab.
Mr Diel said: “This isn't a penalty – it’s a natural consequence if you choose not to vaccinate and then choose to travel.
“For example, you don't have to drive on Bermuda's roads, but if you choose to do so you have to take a test and get your vehicle licensed and get insurance – all of which you pay for.
“That isn't penalising people who drive, it's a consequence of their decision to drive.”
Mr Diel warned: “Remember, this isn't something we can try to fix or improve upon later – we as an island don't have a second chance to get this right.
“Government is trying to protect the public from these new strains and once they are here they are here.
“Allowing unvaccinated people who have travelled abroad and thus risk bringing in these new strains is a huge risk – particularly with only approximately 50 per cent of the island vaccinated.”
Mr Diel said that he came down on the side of vaccination for everyone, including pregnant women.
He added: “The cost of further surges is huge as is the risk of further deaths – you have to balance this and, on balance, I don't see how it makes sense at the moment to allow for exemptions.
“But this is really a question for the medical experts. We should always be guided by the science.“