GOB Walks Back Vaccine In Buildings Mandate

Pro and anti-vaxxers across the country balked when the Minister of Health, Michel Chebat announced that starting Friday, every public and private business as well as all modes of public transportation would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter. It sounded like too huge of an undertaking - how would you enforce that with corner grocery store and street-side taxi?

And, indeed, it seems like the minister might have bitten off more than he can chew because this morning the Attorney General announced that there was a change to the proposed regulation. Now, rather than every business, the rule will apply only to government offices. The includes departments like Immigration, Traffic, Labor, and all others. Now, it's a massive cutback - like going from an entire galaxy to just the solar system

Today we spoke with the AG, Magali Marin Young, via Zoom to find out the reason for the change.

Magali Marin Young, Attorney General
"After Minister Chebat had announced that this requirement would come into place, cabinet had ask him to engage in consultation with various stakeholders including the Belize Chamber of Commerce and he engaged in those discussions and based on the advice of the medical community, he advised that it would be best to do it in a phase approach at this time and so the proposed October 1st regulations will only apply to public buildings, those that are owned or lease by government for government operations and those of statutory bodies including those controlled by the government of Belize."

"To your knowledge, do you feel like what came out of the consultations and the reason for scaling it back was an economic reason that business would lose out on money or a problem with enforcement, or what was the main driver behind putting it down to a phased approach?"

Magali Marin Young, Attorney General
"Well, I think that as you know that government is in a position where it has to balance all possible interest in arriving at decisions in what is best to implement at this time. So, government has to balance the economic interest, the fact that we need revenue to be able to run the public hospitals, pay public officers etc., as well as to consider what the medical experts advised. Based on the discussions and consultations, Minister Chebat felt that a phased approach would be advisable at this time. Now let me very clear, there is nothing stopping the private sector, private business owner from implementing these same restrictions. So, not because government has not implemented them or impose them on private businesses means that they cannot also take these measures to protect their customers, clients and employees."

But even though it won't be across the board for every business, Belizeans are still unsure of the legality of such a regulation. We asked the AG about this and she explained that the government went to great lengths to seek legal advice, even looking for assistance in other parts of the region.

Magali Marin Young, Attorney General
"The decisions taken are not taken recklessly, they are taken with upon sound legal advice on the powers that government may use at this time to contain the spread of this virus. Each Belizean citizen enjoys certain fundamental rights; the freedom to move, the right to protection of the law, the right to privacy, the right to security of persons, right to property etc., so we all enjoy these rights, but these rights are not absolute rights. The constitution also provides limitations for each of these rights and those limitations are for public safety, public health, national security and the wider public interest. We all enjoy the freedom to move wherever we want in this country, but there is a restriction on driving the highways while drunk beyond a certain limit and that was enacted because you have to protect innocent drivers on the highway from drunk drivers who may not have all their faculties intact because of their state. So if you look around we have several laws that limit these rights. These regulations are no different, they are being enacted to protect the wider public interest, to protect government employees who work at these units, departments. These laws are not being enacted with a view to impose authoritarian or dictatorial values, they are being enacted to protect members of the public. We are in the middle of a pandemic, people are dying in this country - almost one a day. We've lost doctors, nurses, policemen right across society."

Channel 7