The Quarantine Act explained

THE Government has signalled its intention to make changes to some of the existing legislation being used in implementing its COVID-19 response. The Quarantine Act is among those under review.

As Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte explained in announcing the planned changes, the Act will come in for particular attention because it “is quite dated and requires up to date regulations and other provisions for the quarantining of persons”.

Attorney Lloyd Barnett, an authority on Jamaica’s Constitution and member of the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR), along with IJCHR member Nancy Anderson summarise the powers and scope of the Act in its current form:

“The Quarantine Act was made in conformity with the International Sanitary Convention which came into being long before Jamaica became an independent State and was applied to us as a colony.

“Essentially, it deals with the prevention of the introduction into Jamaica of infectious diseases as a result of the increased movement of ships and aircraft.

“This Act empowers the minister to make regulations covering Jamaica, including the ports and airports, for the purpose of preventing danger to public health from ships or aircraft or cargo and the spread of infection by means of any ship, aircraft or persons or things about to leave such ship or aircraft. The regulations essentially provide for the detention of ships or aircraft or of persons or things that are or have been on them.

“These Regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, so that the Act provides for parliamentary oversight. The Act makes it an offence to refuse to provide answers to inquiries from authorised officers or to provide false information.

“The initial Quarantine (Maritime) Regulations which are scheduled to the Act specifically deal with designating places as ‘infected areas’, in respect of rodent plague, cholera, yellow fever, typhoid and pulmonary tuberculosis. Masters of ships have a duty under the Regulations to ascertain the state of health of all persons on-board and to provide a signed declaration of health. No person other than a pilot and his apprentice may board a foreign ship coming into Jamaica until it has been granted a pratique or permission to dock. Such a pratique is only granted if the ship has had no death or illness of any person on-board as a result of infectious disease or the ship had not called at any infected port. The authorities may prohibit or restrict the boarding or leaving of ships coming from foreign ports where there has been any death or case of illness suspected to be due to infectious disease. Where ships are placed in detention or quarantined, the health authorities may require the medical inspection of the crew and passengers and the isolation of the sick either on-board or onshore. If any part of the island is an infected area, the health authorities may implement measures to secure the medical examination of all persons about to leave that area by sea so as to prevent the embarkation of persons showing symptoms of any specified infectious disease.

“A person who is placed under observation must furnish all information as is reasonably required by the authorised officer and undergo such medical inspection and examination as may be required. Any person under observation or surveillance who shows symptoms of infectious disease may be ordered by the health officer to be placed in isolation.

“Similar provisions are made in the Second Schedule in respect of aircraft, and Extracts from the International Sanitary Convention of 1926 are set out in an appendix to the Act.”

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