ATTORNEY Subhas Panday on Tuesday said UNC activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj is wrong to question whether it is legal to wear masks in public during the covid19 pandemic. In a release Maharaj claimed only the President could authorise the wearing of masks in public according to the Public Holidays and Festivals Act.
Section 5(2) of the Act gives the President the power to make regulations for the management of public festivals and this could include people being allowed to wear masks. Section 5(5) of the Act adds that any person who appears in public masked or otherwise, contrary to the regulations in 5(2) is unless authorised to do so in keeping with is liable to a fine $1,000 and to imprisonment for six months.
But Panday, who was also a former minister in the national security ministry, said Maharaj's interpretation of the law is wrong. He explained the section of the Act which Maharaj referred to, involves masks used in festivities such as Carnival where a mask covers a person's entire head and makes the person unidentifiable. Panday said the masks being advanced by the Health Ministry only cover people's nose and mouth. In these circumstances, Panday said, "People are still identifiable."
He explained the act does not cover other types of headwear such as the burkas worn by Muslim women, which could be considered as a type of mask.
After noting TT is in unprecedented times regarding the pandemic and how to respond to it, Panday said, "There should be a common sense approach not a legalistic one."
He also argued the authorities should be paying more attention to issues such as TT's street dweller population. Panday claimed these people were at great risk to contracting covid19.
Senior government ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Government would not "give oxygen" to Maharaj's statement.
One official said, "No positive purpose can be derived from this discussion. A second official said Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasarm was very clear in his explanation of the recommendations from the Centre for Disease Control about the usage of masks by members of the public. This official said it is recommended that people wear masks in places where social distancing is difficult to protect themselves from being infected by the virus.
A third official said, "This only serves as a distraction at a time when all attention must be concentrated on the national effort to fight the spread of the pandemic."