Plans are in the pipeline to implement fixed penalties with on-the-spot fines for violators of COVID-19 health restrictions, following a series of house parties and other gatherings with more than the maximum number of people.
Speaking at a news conference with the Minister of National Security, Renée Ming, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Martin Weekes disclosed that the organiser of the party at the Botanical Gardens last weekend was arrested.
A court appearance is pending. Mr Weekes also stated that others who were at the event could be charged.
“We arrest when we have to. We prefer not to arrest because, especially when dealing with anything COVID-related, bringing someone into custody and being that close – we do not want to have to do that.”
He also said “people were fleeing in all directions” when officers arrived at the event held at the Horticultural Hall.
“One of the main powers we have is dispersal. We want to get people apart,” he added.
To date, there are 175 files for breaches “across the whole of the COVID regulations” bound for the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.
Minister Ming noted that “there have been 16 files received” from police on “private individuals who violate curfew”.
But she said: “There have yet to be any convictions under the PHE Act for violating curfew, therefore there have been no fines.”
Six files were received by the DPP from police on private individuals who violated COVID regulations.
“Five persons were prosecuted. Two received convictions and three are pending trial”.
“We have also received repeated queries about the fixed penalty legislation proposed and about the penalties for those individuals who were at the recent parties and events,” said Ms Ming.
“Regarding the fixed penalty legislation – I can advise that the Ministry of Health has prepared a proposal for legislation that would see fixed penalties apply for a finite set of material breaches of COVID-19 regulations. This legislation continues to be worked on and is advancing. It is unlikely that it will be retroactive once it comes into effect.
“However under the current regulations, people linked to recent parties could be subject to a fine or conviction. This will depend on the investigation by the BPS and the prosecutorial procedure by the DPP’s Office.
“To be clear, I understand the community’s outrage that these events are taking place, particularly when the majority of our community are rightly adhering to the guidelines,” Ms Ming added.
“And I also appreciate the community’s frustration at the perception that the good are being punished because of the bad – and that not enough is being done to hold those accountable who blatantly break the law.
“I can assure you that the Ministry of National Security, the Bermuda Police Service and the Department of Public Prosecutions are diligently taking steps to exact penalties against those who violate the public health act.”
The Minister reiterated the appeal for residents to take “personal responsibility” to keep themselves and other safe.
She also “set out a few timely reminders for the public as we continue to navigate the pandemic”.
“First and foremost, we remain under curfew – 12 midnight – 5 am,” she said.
“A curfew for recreational boating remains in effect. All recreational boating must end at 8pm.
“Large Group Gatherings are still limited to 25 persons.
“For indoor services or ceremonies in a church or other religious establishments, the number of persons who can gather is limited to 25 percent of the indoor area’s full capacity.
“For the number of persons at outdoor services or ceremonies (including weddings and funerals), the number cannot exceed 50 persons.”
Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:
- Police can close a licensed premises for a period not exceeding 24 hours, if a contravention of the Public Health COVID-19 Emergency Powers Regulations has occurred on the premises.
- The Minister of Health can close any business or facility not in compliance.
- Under the regulations, an enforcement officer may stop and question an individual[s] to ensure that the person[s] is compliant with the Regulations.
- If a person is not exempt in accordance with the guidelines or does not satisfy the enforcement officer’s requests the officer may at any time, take actions to enforce these Regulations, including the dispersal of any group more than 25 persons.
- An enforcement officer may use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of a power under these Regulations.
- No person shall resist, obstruct, or assault, an enforcement officer who is acting in the execution of their duty under these Regulations.
- A person who fails to comply with any of these Regulations commits an offence and is liable to the following:
- a) a fine of $6,000, in respect of a first offence;
- b) for a second or subsequent offence, a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both;
- c) in the case of a continuing offence, a fine of $1,000 in respect of each day during which the offence is continued.
Lastly, it is an offence to not wear a mask in accordance with the guidelines.
- A person who fails to wear a mask when one is required commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction of:
- a fine of $500, for the first offence;
- a fine of $1,000, for a second or subsequent offence.
Finally, as I repeatedly say, now is not the time to become complacent.
As a country we have demonstrated resilience and discipline in navigating this pandemic and we must remain vigilant.
I’m urging residents to exercise a degree of personal responsibility by making smart and sensible decisions to protect you, your family, your friends and your loved ones.
As a reminder, we all must continue to do what we can to mitigate and limit the spread of the virus by complying with the policies in place.
Please continue to follow the health guidelines – this includes wearing a mask, hand sanitizing and maintaining the appropriate physical distancing.
If you are in attendance at any establishment or location around the island and see any breaches of the COVID-19 regulations by persons or businesses – please do not hesitate to call 2-11 to report the violations.