Lawyer supports Gov’t on establishment of safe zones

One of the island’s senior legal practitioners is backing the placing of restrictions on the freedoms of unvaccinated Barbadians.

Speaking in support of Monday’s announcement by Prime Minister Mia Mottley that government will shortly introduce “safe zones” at workplaces in the public sector requiring staff to be vaccinated or frequently tested, Garth Patterson, Q.C. strongly suggested that limits on the unvaccinated were needed now more than ever.

“The establishment of safe zones, while not going far enough, is a step in the right direction.  The Government has every right to put public health considerations ahead of private rights. The imposition of limits on the freedoms of unvaccinated persons is long past due,” Patterson told Barbados TODAY on Wednesday.

The senior partner in the law firm Lex Caribbean added: “If not within the context of a global pandemic of deathly proportions, then when?”

The prominent Queen’s Counsel argued that the COVID-19 Delta variant has ravaged the Barbadian population, caused an unprecedented level of “preventable” deaths, decimated family units and left the local economy on the brink of collapse.

“This could have largely been avoided if everyone got vaccinated,” Patterson contended.

But he said the imperatives that justify the establishment of safe zones within the public sector are no less relevant in the private sector.

“Employers within vulnerable private sectors (retailers, manufacturers, tourism and health care) should take the cue from the Government in establishing their own safe zones,” the senior attorney suggested.

He also urged the Government to back those employers who chose to create their own safe zones, since the effective management of this pandemic cannot be left to the Government alone.

“We all have a part to play, and Government and the private sector should be singing from the same hymn sheet,” Patterson added.

However, the country’s largest public sector trade union has chosen to reserve any specific comment on the proposed safe zones until it gets greater clarity at the next meeting of the Social Partnership.

Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Wayne Walrond said on Wednesday his organisation will stick to the last Social Partnership position of allowing persons to choose whether to be vaccinated.

“Our position is what was agreed at the last sitting of the Social Partnership when we discussed the whole thing with mandatory vaccination. We still support the whole public education in encouraging persons to be vaccinated, but we have not shifted from our position where persons have the right to choose, to have a say, and that they should not be discriminated against,” Walrond told Barbados TODAY.

“When we meet at the Social Partnership again we will have to look to see what are the revised positions, but as it stands at the last Social Partnership meeting, the position was to labour and to my understanding, the collective body was that you would support workers’ rights not to be bullied or forced into vaccination,” the Acting NUPW General Secretary stated.

“I prefer the government to come to the table and clearly state: ‘When you say safe zones, exactly what do you mean…this means X or does this mean Y?’ So if we can get more information I can tell you if we are for or against it,” Walrond said.

In announcing the safe zones, Mottley said there has to be a balance regarding the duty of care which the government must show to all citizens by creating a safe place for the majority of eligible persons who have already taken the injection.

“The reality is that we are satisfied that we need now at this stage to start the process of the creation of safe zones. And what do we mean by safe zones? That we need to be able to have places where persons are either vaccinated or recently tested,” she announced.

The Head of Government disclosed that the zones will start operating in the coming weeks among the most vulnerable in the society such as the elderly.

The Prime Minister also said swabbing centres and out-patient clinics will be among the safe zones and that the ministry would shortly be providing guidance notes to the safe zones.

“The Ministry of Health has indicated that those are the high-risk areas and therefore when you see the guidance notes come out later this week, it is anticipated that unvaccinated persons, for example, in these high-risk areas will have to be tested at least once a week in order to ensure that we are taking care of those we have to take care of.  The truth is, the people who are vaccinated will have a less frequent regime,” Mottley stated.

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