BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 23, 2020– Additional amendments were made to the Quarantine Regulations which were set in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Those amendments came into effect on September 22. Statutory Instrument 134 of 2020, which was signed by Minister of Health, Hon. Pablo Marin, allows for amendments to regulations 10 and 12 of SI 126, which, respectively, restricted the opening of churches and restaurants.
As a result of the amendment to regulation 10, paragraph (h), churches are now allowed to conduct services, provided that no more than ten persons are in attendance “other than the person officiating the service and two auxiliary personnel.”
Additionally, as a result of the amendments to the regulations, restaurants and similar establishments holding a license are now allowed to open for in-house dining, “provided that no more than ten customers shall be allowed to dine at any one given time.”
The regulation also required that restaurants should provide in-house dining only to customers who have made reservations.
What has caused an even greater stir within the community, however, is a new provision that was added to the regulations which could result in legal implications for the Director of Health Services. The new provision, 22A, says that, “The Director of Health Services shall provide the Minister responsible for national security with the name and address of all persons who have tested positive for COVID-19.”
The provision also directs the DIrector of Health Services to disclose the name and place of persons in self-isolation and also those placed in mandatory quarantine. Subsection (2) of that provision states that, “The Director of Health Services commits an offense if he fails to provide the information to the Minister responsible for national security.”
Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services, has gone on the record a number of times to express his disapproval of the demand to disclose the personal information of infected persons.
He has said that the sharing of that information has no medical benefit and could lead to wider community stigma and discrimination.
On Wednesday afternoon rumors of Dr. Manzanero’s resignation from the post of Director of Health Services surfaced on social media. Reports are the Dr. Manzanero was not made aware of the new provisions in SI 134 which obliged him to disclose the personal information of COVID-19 patients to the Minister of National Security, forcing him to break his oath of confidentiality and which effectively incriminated him.
The Government of Belize issued a release attempting to dispel the rumors but confirmed that the National Oversight Committee was in conversation with Dr. Manzanero concerning the recent SI. The release outlined,” It was agreed to recommend to Cabinet an alternative way of dealing with the issue of COVID-19 positive persons who break quarantine and the law.” It has since been confirmed that Dr. Manzanero would not be resigning from his post as Director of Health Services.
In an interview on Wednesday morning, the Minister of National Security, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte told local media that the new provision which incriminates the DHS was put in place to properly manage the movement of COVID-19 patients. His remarks were made before the apparent standoff between the DHS and the National Oversight Committee which led to the reverting from the first position and recommending Cabinet to look at alternative measures.
“The oversight committee and the Cabinet have both said that that’s in the best interest of dealing with the pandemic. I don’t foresee an issue at all, we are in a pandemic, I personally see no shame in somebody having COVID-19, I don’t see, personally, what’s the issue. There will be no breach of confidentiality that is not necessary.” Peyrefitte shared. He added,” Nobody’s privacy to that extent will be violated but it’s very important for the police to know if a person is violating their self-isolation order, so we can arrest them, and detain them, and charge them, so we can protect you.”
Cabinet is now tasked with revisiting provision 22A enacted in SI 134.