18,000 charged for COVID breaches

September 17, 2021
Persons being taken into custody by members of the security forces during an operation along the Hellshire main road last October. The persons were deemed to be in breach of curfew orders made under the Disaster Risk Management Act.
Persons being taken into custody by members of the security forces during an operation along the Hellshire main road last October. The persons were deemed to be in breach of curfew orders made under the Disaster Risk Management Act.

More than 18,000 persons have been charged with various breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA), which is the main piece of legislation being used in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data provided by the police, which covers the period March 2020 to September 2021, show that the vast majority of persons prosecuted -- 14,752 -- were charged for breaching curfew orders. Another 2,729 persons were brought before the courts for failing to wear masks.

The data shows that there have been 465 party-related arrests, 116 for operating bars in contravention of the DRMA, 171 for breaches of the gathering rule, 43 for not observing social distancing, and 14 for breach of home quarantine.

Parliament in April amended the DRMA to remove the requirement for the police to warn persons before proceeding to make an arrest. Since then, there have been 9,038 arrests up to September 7. Comparatively, there were 2,032 arrests between January and March 2021, when the police were required to warn persons.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, acknowledged that there have been challenges with people complying with curfews. The start of the nightly curfews has been pushed back from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"We must make it easier for the people of the country to follow the law," Holness said, while noting that many persons were experiencing transportation difficulties as the curfew hours neared. He said that the 8 p.m. start of the curfew on weekdays should not be viewed as a loosening up of measures but rather an attempt to give persons more time to get out of the public space.

"It is a consideration of the public's convenience and safety and not a consideration of increasing movement time," the prime minister said.

Holness further said that no government can rely on the enforcement of the orders made under the DRMA as a means of getting compliance.

"We can attempt to enforce periodically, intermittently, but given all the other challenges that we have, we couldn't divert all our security force resources into enforcement," Holness said.

"What we rely on is the voluntary compliance of citizens -- people who understand the challenges that we face and say my duty as a citizen of this country who would want to see the best for my county, act in the best interest of the country by observing its laws. There are many Jamaicans who do that every single day," Holness added.

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