Antigua & Barbuda’s Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Steadroy Benjamin said he would ask Cabinet to increase the fines for COVID-19 violations and make more infractions ticketed offences.
Benjamin said he had taken this stance because he saw many people flouting the regulations to curb the spread of the disease.
“I’m of the very strong opinion that when Cabinet next meets, I am inclined to ask that the penalties for these offences be revised upwards because people seem not to want to comply,” he told state media on Sunday.
There is currently a maximum penalty of $5,000 and six months imprisonment for most offences under the regulation.
Minutes before Benjamin made the comments, the Ministry of Health released its dashboard showing 14 new cases of the coronavirus in the country.
This meant active cases were now at a record high of 51.
The government introduced stricter measures on Friday that included a nine-hour curfew from 8 pm to 5 am.
The Attorney General, who is among curfew-exempted officers, said he saw people on the road when he drove through St. John’s City after the new measure went into effect.
“There were persons still driving in and around the city after 8 o’clock. That will not be tolerated. I’ve seen cars on the road on All Saints Road, I’ve seen cars on the road on Factory Road. I’ve seen cars on the road at Old Parham Road, in the vicinity, also of Whenner Road and Valley Road”, Benjamin said.
The Attorney General said people also ignored the protocol that limits social gatherings to 10 people.
“There were instances of people together in groups in excess of 20, playing dominoes and liming. That will not be tolerated”, Benjamin insisted.
“It appears that these people do not understand exactly what we’re fighting with. We’re fighting with a very deadly disease, a pandemic, which we’re trying to control and every person in this country must understand his and her responsibility”, the Attorney General said.
Under the current regulations, police officers can issue $500 fixed-penalty tickets to people who breach social gathering restrictions or fail to wear their masks.
For all other breaches, officers must arrest offenders and take them before the court.
Benjamin acknowledged that this practice created increased risk.
“That also could be the beginnings of gatherings together, where you can spread the disease from one to another,” he said. “So, when we meet in Cabinet on Wednesday, I will ask that some of those breakers of curfew be ticketed as well so that they would not go down to the cells in great numbers but they can be ticketed and increase the fines on the tickets for persons who break the curfew.”
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