BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 1, 2020 — According to Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte, the Office of the Director of Health Services (DHS) is still legally obligated to provide the list of COVID-19 patients to the Ministry of National Security. Peyrefitte said that he has not yet been instructed by the National Oversight Committee to make any amendments to Statutory Instrument (SI) 134, which outlines that legal obligation.
Many in the community expected that such amendments to the statutory instrument would have been made in order to avert a possible resignation by Dr. Marvin Manzanero, the DHS. Indeed, rumors had begun to circulate after the passing of the SI that Dr. Manzanero had resigned because of his disapproval of the move to make the identities of persons infected with COVID-19 known — something that he believes could expose them to stigma and discrimination. Not long after, however, a government press release categorized the rumors as false and claimed that a meeting had been held with Dr. Manzanero and that “alternative measures” (other than the mandatory identification of all COVID-19 patients) would be explored.
Peyrefitte has now said, however, that his Ministry need not make a request to the Office of the Director of Health Services, since the law clearly states in section 22A subsection 1 that the DHS shall provide the list of names to the National Security Minister.
When asked about Dr. Marvin Manzanero’s stance on refusing to release confidential patient information, the Attorney General said that things are different during a pandemic, since the best interests of all citizens must be taken into consideration.
Peyrefitte pointed out that the Minister of Health is empowered to enact legislation during times of a pandemic, and that includes SI 134, which was signed by the Minister of Health, Pablo Marin.
The prompt Government release that was issued after rumors of Dr. Manzanero’s resignation surfaced, clearly stated that the National Oversight Committee would recommend that Cabinet revisit the legislation.
While that directive may have gone up to Cabinet level, to date, almost 8 days later, no changes have been made.
As far as is public knowledge, no list of COVID-19 cases has been given to the Ministry of National Security. Dr. Manzanero has still not made a public statement on the matter, even though he remains legally responsible for providing the list of COVID-19 patients to the Minister of National Security.
In rationalizing the importance of knowing the names and addresses of infected persons, the Attorney General pointed out that the national security personnel, who are important frontline workers, are highly exposed to COVID-19-positive persons, and as a result, should be aware of all cases of the virus in order to respond to incidences in the safest manner.
“I believe that the Ministry of National Security should have the names…. Why? We have to make sure people are protected within the country. We have in the Ministry of National Security a lot of more sensitive and private information than just whether or not you are COVID-19 positive.
“So I really don’t see the issue at all; people are very disrespectful of the law, and people oftentimes disrespect the very same Director of Health Service and the Ministry of Health. They tell them to quarantine in a home, those people tend to not stay in those homes, those people tend to say ‘screw the Ministry of Health, we will come out, we will do what we want, we will get on public transportation,’ even though the Ministry of Health tells them that they are to quarantine,” Peyrefitte lamented.
He added,” When these people escape or they wander from where they are supposed to be, who do you think they call for assistance to detain these people and take them back to where they belong?”
Peyrefitte said that he does not see a reason to be ashamed of a COVID-19 diagnosis, and pointed out that matters of confidentiality are already set aside when a person takes part in contract tracing.
He also said that police, BDF soldiers and Coast Guard personnel would have an easier job if they had the information on infected persons at hand. With that information, they could patrol locations to ensure persons are compliant with their quarantine instructions, he reasoned.
As mentioned, the Office of the Director of Health Services has still not issued an official statement on the situation and the DHS remains legally obligated by SI 134 of 2020 for every day he withholds the list of names and addresses of COVID-19-positive persons from the Ministry of National Security.
We reached out to Dr. Manzanero for comment on the matter, but were unsuccessful.