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  • The Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) Act, 2021, which will strengthen enforcement measures relating to the management of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, was approved in the Senate on Friday (March 26).
  • The Bill seeks to amend the Disaster Risk Management Act to introduce a specific enforceable system of sanctions against persons who breach the public health protocols.
  • Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the Bill, said this system “is one which is much needed and one which we believe will enhance the toolkit that we have to protect Jamaica’s health and wellbeing.”

The Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) Act, 2021, which will strengthen enforcement measures relating to the management of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, was approved in the Senate on Friday (March 26).

The Bill seeks to amend the Disaster Risk Management Act to introduce a specific enforceable system of sanctions against persons who breach the public health protocols.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the Bill, said this system “is one which is much needed and one which we believe will enhance the toolkit that we have to protect Jamaica’s health and wellbeing.”

She noted that the introduction of stronger enforcement measures has now become necessary as “moral suasion has not worked to this point,” with persons becoming defiant in compliance with the safety protocols.

“The reality is that people are dying and hospitals are full. It is important that we enforce compliance while we seek to get our numbers down,” she added.

Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, explained that the law will empower the security forces and other authorised officers in the context of a disaster, to enforce simple Orders to save lives.

“If it is that we know that protocols are not being observed, and that the mechanism for enforcement is not effective, as described by the persons on the ground who enforce, then it must be for us to take action,” she said.

She stressed that if the protocols are followed, less people will get infected, less people will have to go to the hospitals “and less lives will be lost to this unpredictable and horrendous virus.”

“The Government has therefore sought to implement measures that will allow us to enforce these principles to incentivise compliance,” she said.

Senator Johnson Smith noted that while the majority of Jamaicans have complied with the measures over the year, it appears that after the Government’s initial successes with controlling the virus, “many have failed to understand that ‘living with the virus’ does not mean that you pretend that it does not exist and you do as you wish. It didn’t mean that we were out of the woods and that we could go back to the way we were.”

“The Government was at pains to keep repeating the message that we needed to still comply with the measures. It meant and continues to mean following the safety measures and protocols that are proven to reduce the spread, like wearing your mask over your nose and mouth, reducing non-essential social gathering, sanitising your hands all the time, and staying home if you have flu-like symptoms; and if you are an employer, not forcing your employees to come out if they have flu-like symptoms,” she said.

She noted that amending the Disaster Risk Management Act will provide for a fixed penalty ticketing regime and empower an authorised officer to enforce the Order without the requirement to give a warning first.

“To be clear, it is not that an authorised person cannot warn if the circumstances warrant it, but the experience on the ground for our police has been that the obligation to warn has proved impractical for the purposes of not only encouraging compliance, but for prosecuting same, and accordingly, counter to the interest of promoting and securing Jamaica’s health and well-being,” she said.

The Bill specifies 10 levels or tiers of fixed penalties, which range from $3,000 for first-level offences to $500,000 for offences at the 10th level. There are 40 offences specified that attract these fixed penalties.

The Bill was passed in the House on March 23.

 

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