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Attorney General makes case for protection of COVID-19 patients and Belizeans over privacy concerns 

Posted: Thursday, October 1, 2020. 1:49 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The requirement that the Director of Health Services submits the names of patients with COVID-19 is both for their own protection and the benefit of the Ministry of Health personnel, not to mention the Ministry of National Security personnel, Attorney General and Minister Michael Peyrefitte said on Wednesday. 

Unfortunately, Peyrefitte told reporters, “People are disrespectful of the law and people often disrespect the very same Director of Health Services and the Ministry of Health.  They tell people to quarantine in a home, those people tend to not stay in their homes.  Those people tend to say, “Screw the Ministry of Health.  We will come out, do what we want, we will get on public transportation even though the Ministry of Health tells them that they are to quarantine at home or to stay at home because they may be COVID-positive.  When these people escape or they wander away from where they’re supposed to be, the Ministry of Health, who do you think they call for assistance to detain those people and take them back to where they belong?  Who do you think they call?  Do you think they call a nurse or a doctor?  They call the police, they call the B.D.F., they call the Coast Guard.” 

The Minister reiterated that without the names, authorities do not have the right to interdict persons known to have COVID-19 from leaving their homes, interacting with others, and potentially spreading the virus. And there should be no stigma and discrimination attached to having COVID-19, especially because it spreads so quickly, he added; in fact, people should come out and say so in order to ensure they do not infect anyone else and so contacts can get tested. 

“What privacy are you really talking about? When we hear that you are COVID-19 positive, for example, don’t I have to do contact tracing through the Ministry of Health, so when I go and say ‘I need to test you, why? Because you have been around so-and-so who is positive,’ there goes the secrecy right there. So if everybody can have the information, why can’t the national security apparatus not have the information when we are in charge of national security?” Peyrefitte asked. 

“The level of privacy, in my personal view, that is required for when you have any other disease – whether it is hypertension, AIDS, cancer, whatever, is so different from COVID-19. COVID-19 is a pandemic that requires people to remain in certain places because the disease doesn’t move; it’s people that move and transmit the disease. In a case like that, your privacy is far less important than the safety of the country as a whole, because if you do something that you should not do when you are COVID-positive, you can instantly infect 100 people if you go in the wrong place,” Peyrefitte further explained. 

And while we’re not sure if this should worry or terrify ordinary Belizeans, Peyrefitte warned that the Ministry does have far more sensitive information which it is able to keep private because its people do a professional job, and COVID-19 is the least of the worries there. 

Moreover, it is the police officers, Coast Guard, and BDF who are most exposed, even more so than with respect to nurses, doctors, and others, Peyrefitte argued, so they are owed the information in order to help protect themselves and the citizens they serve.  



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