The law mandating the wearing of face masks in certain places in St. Vincent and the Grenadines came into effect on Saturday with the publication of Statutory Rule and Order No. 4 of 2021.
The legislation, which will remain in effect for one month, imposes an EC$100 ticket on persons who are found to be in violation.
The rules also imposes an EC$500 fine on persons who violate the mass gathering limitations.
“If you pay by a ticket, it is cheaper than if you go to the court,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on WE FM on Sunday.
A person who violates the mask-wearing or indoor dining rules, or who rides in or drives a public service vehicle without wearing a mask will be issued an EC$100 ticket for each of those offences.
A similar fine will be imposed for the driver of a public service vehicle in which more than 50% of the licensed number of passengers travel.
“Those persons, like if you permit more than 10 persons in a bar or nightclub or place of entertainment, or you yourself are the persons in charge of the restaurant and you breach the rule, a ticket is $500,” Gonsalves said.
Larger fines in court, no prison alternative
If a $100 ticket matter goes to court, a magistrate can impose a fine of up to EC$500, while the magistrate can impose a fine of up to EC$1,000 for an offence for which an EC$500 ticket was issued.
“But notice there is no an alternative prison sentence,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the fine imposed by the court is recoverable as a civil debt due to the Crown.
“So if you go to the court and you go through all the processes and the court has to make an order and you don’t obey the order, then the court could always imprison you, but not for the offence, but for being in contempt, for not following their order.”
The rules have been passed in response to community spread of COVID-19 in SVG, which Minister of Health St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince confirmed at a virtual press briefing on Friday.
As of Sunday, SVG had confirmed 1,283 cases of COVID-19 of which there are 1,133 local cases.
Four persons have died of COVID-19, while 415 persons have recovered and 864 cases remain active.
Definition of public place, mask-wearing
Gonsalves, said that the Public Health COVID-19 Rules 2021 give legislative effect to proposal announced by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer Beache, and and Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Roger Duncan, in Friday’s briefing.
He said that the legislation was gazetted Saturday evening and the police are responsible for their enforcement.
The prime minister, who also has ministerial responsibility for justice, said that when the regulations were being drafted he had a long discussion with the legal draftspersons.
He also met with Commission of Police Colin John and his deputy, Frankie Joseph, along with two of the assistant commissioner of police, the officer in charge of the Traffic as well as Public Relations Departments about the approach to take to implementation of the rules.
“We had a very good discussion,” Gonsalves said.
“I just want to say that under the rules, for instance, there are provisions in relation to restrictions on public gatherings in bars, nightclubs, and other places of entertainment, also on in-room dining,” he said.
Health officials have said that indoor gatherings must be limited to 10 persons and outdoor gathering to 20 persons.
“But you know, you can have a outdoor dining facilities, that is to say, more open air but you have to have the physical distancing protocols by the chief medical officer observed,” the prime minister said.
The rules call for the wearing of masks in public places.
The prime minister noted the legal definition of a public place.
“Public place for the purpose of the rules is defined as an indoor area, whether publicly or privately owned, to which the public has access by right or invitation, expressed or implied, whether by payment of money or not, but does not include a daycare, or pre-school,” he explained.
Gonsalves further commented:
“So you notice it’s an indoor area. So you are encouraged to wear your mask on the road, but it is not mandatory. It’s really to indoor areas. Public places — places to which the public has access if it is a private place or it is somewhere which is publicly owned, obviously meaning all the various business places, government offices and the like, which is happening more or less already.
“It is interesting to note that wearing of the mask means ‘fitted to his face so as to cover his nose, mouth and chin’,” Gonsalves said.
Children younger than 6 exempted
The rules further say that where a child is accompanied by a person who has responsibility for the child, the person shall provide and ensure that the child has and wears a mask in a manner required by the rule.
The prime minister said that the rule does not apply to children under the age of six years.
“So if you have a child, who is six and older, you have to make ensure the child wears the mask. The child wouldn’t be penalised but you would be, with a fine.”
Police to act ‘with great sensitivity’
“The police are going to apply the rules with great sensitivity but yet, at the same time, those who are particularly recalcitrant, I’m sure they’ll find a different touch from the police,” Gonsalves said.
“Recalcitrant means, naturally, people who are saying, ‘Listen, go to hell! I am not bothering with you or what you’re doing’,” he said.
The prime minister said that a place of entertainment means a shop licensed to sell liquor, a shop where gaming takes place.
If people are gathering outside an establishment to access the services therein, the usual advisories will apply,” he said.
“They have come to the conclusion that the bulk of the spread takes place inside of shops, indoors at private and public places, places of dining and the minibuses,” Gonsalves said.
“So the rules are directed toward those. And you will notice that supermarkets are not included for to restrict the number of 20 persons but you have to wear your mask in the supermarket.
“So that there are certain things which are being penalised by fines because the public health people have accessed that these are the areas which are most problematic.”
The prime minister said it would be better for people to follow the rules than for the authorities to have to enforce them.
“These regulations, if people follow — and you notice I am talking about if people follow, rather than if the police enforce because, usually, with laws or regulation, it is better if people follow them rather than for they to be enforced,” Gonsalves said.
“Because if you have to have a heavy hand in enforcing them, it means they are not commanding the extent of popular support. But I think that these will have popular support so that people will see it is in everybody’s interest. No one is truly safe until everyone is safe,” the prime minister stated.