And from that first child death to COVID, we report now on the major disruption that the pandemic is causing the Magistracy in Belize City.
As we told you on Friday's news, the Prosecution Branch in Belize City has been shut down temporarily after a number of positive COVID were identified in that office. The entire staff of 55 persons including police prosecutors and court orderlies who are essential to the functioning of the Belize City Magistrate Court were sent home to quarantine or self isolate as a precaution.
And, because of the risk of cross contamination between these two closely related units, the decision was taken over the weekend to close the court for 2 weeks, from October 26, until November 6th. The 2-week shutdown also applies to the civil court on North Front Street.
In a press release sent out on Saturday, the Magistracy said, quote, "Only arraignments of persons newly arrested and charged with specific offenses and bail applications continue to be dealt with. All social distancing and face mask measures will continue to be enforced." End quote.
This morning, at a police press briefing in Belmopan, the press asked the Police Commissioner about the 2-week shutdown. Here's what he had to say:
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"What we are doing is that officers have been advised that when it comes to bailable offences there are grant bail for 3 weeks from today and when it comes to non-bailable offences we can arrange with the magistracy to see if we can get the magistrate to the police station to read the charge to the person and then perhaps remand that person into custody or granting that person bail and so that is how we are going to address that issue. We must understand that the whole issue of Covid-19 at the prosecution branch do affect the courts, because the prosecutors actually work within the court room and so the potential for spreading at the courts is also high and it is with that spirit that the court decided that they are going to close down until the necessary sanitation and testing are done and then they see how they go from there. As I said to you on Friday that the entire prosecution branch staff is either on quarantine or isolation. We are still awaiting the results for those were tested on Friday. Hopefully we will be able to get those today and then we will see how much officers are infected."
Chief Magistrate Sharon Frazer also granted an interview today to one of our court colleagues, which was recorded on a cell phone. Here's how she explained the 2-week shutdown of the Belize City court for safety reasons:
Sharon Fraser, Chief Magistrate
"Prosecution branch has had a number of confirmed cases of Covid-19. As a result I'm sure you are aware of the interaction between the staff from prosecution and magistrate court is huge and because of that our exposure has been great and therefore a decision was taken after consulting with the chief justice to close down the court for a period of 2 weeks so that for those who would have been directly exposed to take their necessary test and follow public health procedures as far as quarantine is concerned which would cover that 2 weeks period. So to allow for recovery of those diagnosed prosecutors and court orderly and also to allow for quarantining of persons who would have been directly come in contact with these persons. It has become necessary for the closure. In the meantime while it is we are closed there are those matters that are urgent arraignments that is for those matters that persons cant receive police bail, there will be a magistrate and staff on standby to deal with those persons and for anybody who is in prison who requires bail, we will make ourselves available for that, same and except all other services are going to be closed until the 9th November."
The Court was opened today but for administrative reasons only and to update the workers on the way forward. Every one who was a matter before the court that falls within the two week closure is asked to call 227-7164 to inquire about their case.
The Postmaster General says, quote, "...The services of a certified fumigation and sanitation company has been acquired to fumigate and sanitize the affected post office building. This will be completed on Sunday, October 25, 2020. The building will become habitable immediately afterâ€¦ It has been determined that notwithstanding the situation, there is no need to disrupt our services to the general public. The General Post Office will therefore continue to operate as per normal." End quote.