Quarantine violators face raps; all eyes on ‘party girl’
MANILA, Philippines — The government is preparing to file charges against a Filipino woman who allegedly violated quarantine rules after returning from the United States last week, Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) chief Roberto Salvador Jr. said on Friday.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat earlier disclosed that the woman was supposed to check in at Berjaya Makati Hotel on Dec. 22 where she was to stay for five days, but skipped her quarantine and partied at a restaurant and a bar in Makati on Dec. 23. The woman was found positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 27, Puyat said.
“We have already prepared the complaint,” Salvador told reporters at a televised briefing. “The BOQ and DOH (Department of Health) will stand as the complainants. This should serve as an example that quarantine protocols should not be violated because it has such a big impact on our community.”
Salvador said he also recommended to the Department of Tourism (DOT) that the hotel, which had been designated as a quarantine facility for travelers from abroad, also be charged.
Presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said the government would not hesitate to prosecute those who violate quarantine regulations during the pandemic.
‘Don’t try it’
“I’m sorry, this is a public health emergency, we cannot just let this go,” Nograles said at a press briefing. “Make no mistake: anybody who violates, the law will catch up to you. Don’t try it.”
He reminded international travelers and establishments of their responsibility to follow rules to contain the spread of COVID-19 and they would be held liable for any violation of the law on the mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases, as well as agreements covering the use of quarantine facilities.
“If violations happen, then we will prosecute. It’s that simple,” said Nograles, who is also cochair of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the government body in charge of responding to the pandemic.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the woman could be charged with violating local ordinances and Republic Act No. 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases, and the Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
He said people who had “knowingly cooperated with her in committing such violation” may also be charged.
“The applicability of [this law] to violations of this sort has not been tested judicially. So this may be an opportune time to try it,” Guevarra told reporters.
Salvador said the BOQ had filed complaints against violators of health protocols in the past, including travelers who did not proceed to their designated quarantine facilities.
He said the government was strictly implementing well-established protocols.
“It’s just that there are some people who lacked discipline and would attempt to get away with it,” Salvador said.
He said the woman was taken to a BOQ facility on Dec. 29 and test swabs taken from her had been sent to the Philippine Genome Center to determine which coronavirus variant she was infected with.
If she is not found positive for the Omicron variant, she could leave on the 11th day of her quarantine, Salvador told the Inquirer.
“But if she tests positive for the variant, she has to complete the 14-day isolation then undergo a swab test until she yields a negative result,” he said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III stressed that violators of government quarantine protocols would be “made to account to the full extent of the law” and slapped with both criminal and administrative charges.
“May this serve as a warning. We don’t want to do this but we are in a period of public health emergency, we cannot disregard our laws,” Duque said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año urged people who were in the same establishments visited by the woman to self-isolate and get tested “for your safety.”
Año said the woman went to Mijo Comfort Food restaurant and then to Kampai Japanese restobar, both located at Barangay Poblacion on Dec. 23.
He said she could have infected dozens of people. At least 15 of whom she was with at the two establishments already tested positive, Año said.
In a statement on Thursday, Kampai said it had temporarily stopped operations to get its staff tested. Mijo said their fully vaccinated staff had all tested negative.
Puyat said the DOT had written Gladiolyn Biala, general manager of Berjaya, to give her three days to explain why the hotel should not be held liable for violating quarantine rules.
She said affidavits from the staff of the hotel, restaurant, and bar, plus the persons the woman was with had confirmed that she skipped her quarantine. They said the woman boasted about her “connections” that allowed her to evade quarantine, Puyat said.
Philippine National Police chief Dionardo Carlos on Friday said the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the National Capital Region Police Office would investigate the case and press charges against anyone found liable.
—WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, MARLON RAMOS AND DEXTER CABALZA
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