Quarantine refusers will be ‘detained, arrested and prosecuted’
The couple at the centre of the storm over mandatory quarantine will appear in Magistrates’ Court this morning as police last night warned that anyone refusing to adhere to mandatory supervised quarantine rules will be “detained, arrested and prosecuted”.
Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley, speaking at last night’s Covid-19 press conference, said there would not be a repeat of Sunday’s events when a family of four walked past buses taking unvaccinated individuals to hotels and went home.
As he spoke, the parents, Sophia Cannonier and Michael Watson, were being served with a summons to appear via Zoom at 9.30am today to face charges of breaching the quarantine requirements.
Mr Corbishley conceded there had been “lessons learnt” after confusion over the ability of police to arrest them.
“There was a plan on Sunday, and that plan did not work, and that allowed a family to leave the airport,” Mr Corbishley said.
But he took a blunt line on breaches on regulations going forward, saying procedures had been reviewed.
“If someone does not agree or refuses to comply with the quarantine process, then there is quite clear regulation which results in detention, arrest and prosecution.”
He said it was “widely known” more people intended to ignore the quarantine requirements.
“Whilst I regret Sunday, I am satisfied that we are back in place.”
David Burt, the Premier, took a similarly uncompromising stance, saying: “This weekend we saw a planned and deliberate breach of the law which to date has gone unenforced.
“Let me be clear. The government policy requiring supervised hotel quarantine of unvaccinated travellers is unchanged and the expectation is that the law will be enforced.”
He added: “I wish to leave no doubt in the minds of others who may take it upon themselves to test our resolve.”
Kim Wilson, the health minister, also said people who flouted quarantine requirements would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, with police and the Department of Public Prosecutions advised.
She emphasised that immunity gained from being infected with Covid-19 was not accepted as a replacement for immunisation from vaccinations.
Ms Wilson added health officials were working with police to prosecute others who had breached quarantine.
Officials were said to be hard pressed keeping up with contact tracing, and stretched in compiling files for prosecutions.
Their remarks came after supporters packed the lane outside the house of Sophia Cannonier and Michael Watson, fearing the couple would be arrested after the Government declared they had flouted regulations against Covid-19.
Ms Cannonier waved from her doorway to about 60 people early yesterday afternoon.
Eugene Dean of the group Bermuda Freedom Alliance, which backs the family and staunchly opposes the travel quarantine, said he had been advised by police that no warrant had been issued for their arrest.
Mr Dean said there had been confusion over the roles of police and Ministry of Health.
“It’s a difficult situation in that it is not really the police’s responsibility. It is the ministry’s. But many times they are calling on the police for assistance.”
He said the police had assured him that “they haven’t approved any arrest warrants”, and the two officers posted outside the home were “just meant to hold the fort”.
Mr Dean added: “This issue has bought a lot of people in the community together.
“Because of the stand that Michael and Sophia have taken, it’s given everyone hope that there is an opportunity to push back on it.”
The unvaccinated couple returned home on Sunday from the UK with their two children, bypassing quarantine.
Under the law, the offence could incur a $25,000 fine or six months’ imprisonment – and the Ministry of Health, in a joint statement with police, said last night they would face prosecution for failing to comply.
The couple told The Royal Gazette they had medically documented proof showing all four, who have been exposed to the virus, have “robust” antibodies that confer immunity.
The ministry statement said antibody tests were not recognised in Bermuda as the equivalent of immunisation by vaccination.
But Ayo Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer, cast doubt last night on the level of antibodies left from exposure to the virus.
Immunity after getting infected left “inconsistent” protection, he said, while “the advantage of vaccination is the dose is measured and predictable, and there is immunity to a specific part of the virus – the spike protein”.
Dr Oyinloye said it left the immune system better equipped to fend off the virus.
Ms Cannonier told The Royal Gazette that as of 4pm, no summons had been served on the family.
She added: “I’m not expecting one.
“Bermuda has risen. The people are walking and gathering – it’s hot outside but they are standing up.”
Their two teenage children were said to be “worried and not doing 100 per cent” after the family ran afoul of the quarantine order.
Among supporters gathered outside was Eugene Young, who runs a business selling natural supplements.
Mr Young said: “I’m just here to show my support against something I feel is not a justified act.”
Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of National Security and Health, issued a statement saying the “Premier and Government's insistence on mandatory quarantine risks making our law-abiding citizens into criminals” and calling it “wrong”.
Mr Dunkley added: “The One Bermuda Alliance does not support people breaking the law, yet recent events expose why Premier Burt’s mandatory quarantine policy needs to go – now.
“Bermudians must be allowed to isolate in their homes and only to the extent medically required to meet the actual risks.”
Cole Simons, the Opposition Leader, also took issue with what he described as government inconsistency on issues such as special development orders and Covid-19 regulations, saying they would further erode public confidence.
He said: “The evidence of that taking place has been made apparent over the ensuing weeks and more recently with the act of civil disobedience by the Cannonier-Watson family.
“As Opposition Leader, I continue to sound the alarm because Bermuda demands less division and more respect and equity for all Bermudians.
“This country wants transparency, equity, and definitely more accountability.”
But in answer to a suggestion that Bermuda was more divided than it had been for some time, Mr Burt said last night: “I do not agree that we are in the greatest state of division we for a long time. What I know is that there are persons who are deliberately doing things for political aims and objectives and that is their ability in a democratic and free society.”
Meanwhile a source connected with the constitutional challenge against the quarantine in the Supreme Court cast doubt on whether the awaited ruling by Narinder Hargun, the Chief Justice, would have any bearing on the Cannonier-Watson matter.
The source said prosecutors would likely proceed with a court charge before Mr Hargun rules – and that the Supreme Court dispute was expected to end with the court finding in favour of the Government’s side.