Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh says the orginal Public Health Ordinance Bill could have been used to pass regulations for the mandatory wearing of face masks. He said this would be a summary offence giving power to the Magistrate to imprison as well as fine those not abiding with the wearing of face masks.

Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, he said “I think social distancing fines should also be implemented. A fine should be there for breach in the three to six-feet social distancing rule.

“Some of our citizens are just not going to have the civic responsibility, some are still in denial that the virus exists, some young persons think they are infallible, others have not seen the horror of someone struggling for breath or drowning in air, as it is described.

“Some say God would protect them, while others say it’s against their constitutional rights to be forced to do so while others are mentally incompetent to understand the danger.

“These people are a threat to our families, economy and would put a strain on our health services. The cost of keeping someone hospitalized and on a ventilator is a tremendous burden to the taxpayer.”

He said those people needed to be slapped with legislation.

Deyalsingh said the country might need social media to post people not using face masks online using a name and shame technique and the Health Ministry should be looking at these breaches since the early stages of the virus.

He said the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that cloth face masks should be worn in public where social distancing was not possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Deyalsingh said the organization recommended using masks with at least three layers of different materials, two spun-bond polypropylene layers were also believed to offer adequate filtration and breathability.

He said when producing cloth face masks, two parameters should be considered; the filtration efficiency of the material and breathability.

Deyalsingh said the filter quality factor known as “Q” was commonly used as an integrated filter quality indicator.

He said it was a function of filtration efficiency and breathability, with higher values indicating better performance and experts recommended a Q-factor of three or higher.

Deyalsingh said he hoped the police would also take citizens’ calls seriously if they saw someone breaching the law, for just as a bandit with a gun can endanger someone’s life, so can someone without a face mask in the time of COVID-19.

Deyalsingh said to allow the police to charge and have them appear before a magistrate who can determine either a fine or jail sentence.

What the people say

The Amendment to the Public Health Ordinance was passed in the Lower House on Friday and moved to the Senate on yesterday.

The legislation mandates citizens to wear a face mask in public or face fines from $1,000 in the first instance. Those fines will increase for each additional time that a person is charged for breaching the regulation. Speaking during the debate in the Lower House on Friday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said, “Failure to wear a mask, for instance, will attract by way of first offence $,1000 in respect of the breach. By way of a second offence to $2,000 and by way of a third offence to $5,000.”

After the third offence, Al-Rawi said citizens can be arrested for breaching the act.

The following public reactions to the announcement of legislation mandating the wearing of face masks in public to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus were taken from the CNC3 and T&T Guardian Facebook pages:

Desiree Francis, “My concern about this is same one I have with the beach regulation. How implemented? Would in public include in my car alone the same way fishermen can’t save their boat from sinking? If me alone walking around the Savannah should I be wearing a mask?”

Victor Donowa, “Great news, those who don’t want to listen will now have to pay for their stubbornness.”

Demitry Whatson, “Hope the Government give out masks to all vagrants and make sure they wear it.”

Ricky Omar, “Thing to do first you doing it last.”

Kieta Celestine-Austin, “We need to try and persuade people to use mask…this virus is serious and far from over. It’s everyone responsibilit to try and protect their own lives, health and wellbeing… it’s a joint effort.”