Democratic rights at a time of Covid-19
Last week, the SI Governor General, His Excellency, Sir David Vunagi, GCMG, declared the country’s fifth consecutive State of Public Emergency (SOPE) on the eve of the expiry of the current SOPE (on July 24).
His Excellency, exercised powers conferred by section 16(2) of the Constitution
The World Health Organisation has declared that the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (“COVID-19”) is a public health emergency of international concern and is a pandemic.
Furthermore, COVID-19 can easily transmit from person to person and is capable of causing severe respiratory illness, which may lead to death.
The Governor General, in exercising his powers, did so to take measures to ensure that COVID-19 is not transmitted from person to person within Solomon Islands (including by controlling the entry of persons into Solomon Islands and requiring the quarantining and testing of persons).
The Solomon Islands is Covid free and there is no doubt in my mind that bringing in and observing a SOPE has greatly protected public health, safety, order and security since the coronavirus pandemic first occurred in February 2020.
While there has been some limited degree of freedom of movement as guaranteed by the Constitution there has not been widespread limitations on rights and Solomon Islanders have been accepting of the SOPE rules to their credit.
The only way to curtail Covid is to be vaccinated but, unlike in some countries where vaccinations have been made mandatory, the choice to be vaccinated has been one of personal decision, although health advice is consistent in advising all to get themselves vaccinated to protect themselves and others from the deadly virus.
It happens to be my view that Solomon Islanders, based on WHO advice, should get vaccinated.
With the onset of Covid in NSW, including the reported presence of the delta variant, there have been some serious incidents in the past couple of days which have been reported for two successive days in Radio New Zealand news bulletins.
The disturbances are claimed to have occurred as anti lock down protests and have left me puzzled when emergency measures were brought in to prevent the spread of coronvirus.
Readers will be able to judge for themselves, as I quote several reports.
Sydney anti-lockdown protest chaos as NSW Covid-19 crisis deteriorates
24 July 2021
Fifty-seven people have been arrested as thousands of anti-lockdown protesters breached Covid-19 restrictions and gathered in Sydney's CBD.
New South Wales (NSW) Police Minister David Elliott said 57 people have been charged after attending an anti-lockdown protest in Sydney today, and that a strike force has been established to identify others who were there.
Officers issued more than 90 infringement notices to people at the demonstration and more arrests are likely.
"What we saw today was 3500 very selfish boofheads - people that thought the law didn't apply to them," Elliott said.
Twenty-two detectives will be involved in the strike force and will work until "whenever it concludes" to identify protesters.
Earlier, Central Sydney was shut down for several hours as thousands of protesters breached Covid-19 restrictions to march, sparking brawls and several arrests.
People in Greater Sydney and its surrounds have been living in lockdown for exactly four weeks, as an outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant continues to spread.
In the 24 hours to 8:00pm Friday (local time), a record 163 new infections were announced.
Protesters shouted "freedom" as they marched towards the CBD through the suburb of Haymarket, which had just moments earlier been declared a virus hotspot by NSW Health's Jeremy McAnulty at a press conference.
There were chaotic scenes on Broadway, one of the main arteries through Sydney's inner west, with thousands of people blocking traffic to take part in the unauthorised event.
By the time the crowd reached George Street, a brawl broke out.
Opposite Sydney Town Hall, protesters swarmed and threw items at mounted police.
Officers then formed a barricade across George Street which cut off hundreds of protesters still making their way down one of the country's most iconic thoroughfares.
More than a dozen people scaled an awning to jump and chant to a large crowd below.
Some protesters brought their children, while few people were wearing face masks at the demonstration, which started at Victoria Park in Camperdown.
Protesters carried signs saying "Wake up Australia" and waved Australian flags.
NSW Police received an application for the protest, which was rejected.
Under the current public health orders, people who are not from the same household cannot gather in groups of more than two outside.
Even then, it has to be for exercise.
In a statement, NSW Police said it "recognises and supports" the right to exercise free speech and peaceful assembly but the protest was in breach of the current Covid-19 public health orders.
"The priority for NSW Police is always the safety of the wider community," the statement read.
Police said several protesters had been arrested and as people dispersed, they would be told to walk back down George Street.
St James and Museum train stations were closed.
When asked about the protest this morning, Health Minister Brad Hazzard described anyone who got involved as "silly".
"I actually think it is really silly," he said.
"At the present time we've got cases going through the roof, and we have people thinking that it's OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration."
Mr.Hazzard has previously said "wacko views" leading people to flout health orders would put the state's Covid-19 recovery at risk.
Anti-lockdown protests have also taken place in Melbourne and Brisbane, with thousands of people in each city also calling for freedom from restrictions.
Brisbane is not currently subject to stay-at-home orders, but the state is on high alert after a flight attendant with the Delta variant crewed six Qantas flights to Gladstone, Hervey Bay and Longreach.
Melbourne is in its fifth lockdown, which has already been extended once, and today recorded 12 new Covid-19 cases.
141 new cases, two deaths in NSW
Today, Sunday, there are are 141 new cases of Covid-19 in New South Wales and and another two people have died - one a woman in her thirties, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a briefing.
Of the new cases, 38 people were infectious while out in the community.
There were 163 new community cases of Covid-19 reported in New South Wales yesterday. Of those, 45 were out out in the community while infectious.
Yesterday's announcement was followed by chaotic scenes in the Sydney CBD as thousands of people protested against the current lockdown in New South Wales. Dozens of protesters were arrested.
The previous day 136 cases were reported.
11 new cases in Victoria
Victoria has recorded 11 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases, which are all linked to the current outbreak.
The state's health department said all of the cases were in quarantine throughout their entire infectious period.
More than 32,000 tests were conducted across the state yesterday, and there are 179 active cases.
Victoria's fifth lockdown is currently scheduled to end at midnight on Tuesday, but authorities have raised concerns that Saturday's anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne could jeopardise the lift on restrictions.
Thousands of people defied lockdown yesterday to march through the city in protest against stay-at-home rules.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said he was concerned the event could spread the virus and undo much of the gains that the state had made through the lockdown.
"It was disappointing to see so many people blatantly disregard the chief health officer's directions, putting the health of Victorians at risk," Assistant Commissioner Cornelius said.
"It beggars belief that the protest could - if mass spreading occurs - result in an extension of the very thing they are protesting for: an end to the current lockdown and a reopening of business, which is something we are all working so hard to achieve."
Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton was another critic of the protesters.
End of quotes
Clampdowns on freedom of movement do restrict democratic rights but, like as been shown in the Solomon Islands, some restriction are necessary and accepted to protect public health and do not fly on the face of democracy and serve to protect rather than deny individuals rights.