What are my rights during COVID-19 lockdown?

COVID-19 has resulted in an inundation of information, but probably still more questions than answers. The pandemic has created a new world so rapidly that it can feel impossible to keep up, and sometimes just the attempt to take in all relevant information is not good for mental health.

Our GP/OKCID team has been working 24/7 since lockdown started, so we’ve been dealing with individual’s questions and concerns head-on since the beginning. We’re here to sift through the influx of information and answer the two most important questions relating to your rights during this lockdown.

  1. What are my rights regarding treatment if I breach lockdown regulations?

Our police commissioner Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata has sent out fresh detailed guidelines on the use of force and torture and on the implementation and enforcement of lockdown regulations by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and municipal police.

It states that “there can simply be no justification for torture, ever” and details directives cautioning against “serious and humiliating rights infringements” by arresting and detaining people for lockdown breaches where their attendance at courts can be done through summons or other less intrusive means.

We have made sure all our staff are educated on these guidelines, to ensure all interactions are handled appropriately. In line with this, it is important to know what your rights are if lockdown regulations are broken. The South African Judiciary has published a series of directives which outline how much citizens will have to pay in ‘admission of guilt’ fines if they are found to breach the country’s lockdown rules.

“The South African Police Service may give a person, who has been arrested on suspicion of a less serious crime, an option to pay an admission of guilt fine (scroll down for a list of guilt fines for different charges here). Such a fine allows a person to admit guilt for a less serious offence without having to appear in court. This prevents an unnecessary overload of the court system.” You can download the full document stating your rights and our security officer’s responsibilities on our Covid-19 info page.

  1. Can I refuse to be tested for COVID-19 if I am not experiencing any symptoms?

As stated by BBP Law Attorneys: “Our law states that no person who is suspected of being infected with the COVID-19 virus and/or who has been in contact with someone who may be a carrier of the COVID-19 virus may simply refuse consent to an enforcement officer for the:

  1. Submission to a medical examination where bodily samples may be drawn from you by a registered doctor or nurse;
  2. Admission to a health establishment, quarantine or isolation site; or
  3. Submission to mandatory treatment.

It is a well-known fact by now that the COVID-19 virus does not cause everyone to develop symptoms, you may however still be a carrier of the virus and therefore you may be reasonably suspected and requested to submit yourself for a medical examination.

Now what is the position if you simply refuse to be tested? In this case, the enforcement officer is authorised to place you in mandatory isolation or quarantine for a period of 48 hours, pending a warrant being issued by a Magistrate authorising the state to conduct mandatory medical examinations on you and if necessary, treatment. You could also be held at a State isolation or quarantine site in order to potentially prevent transmission of the virus.

Furthermore, you will have acted illegally by refusing to submit yourself for the necessary medical examination. You may be criminally prosecuted and if found guilty of the offence, you may be sentenced to jail for a period of not more than 6 months and/or a payment of a fine.”

Although this may sound draconian, it really is vital for public health. At this time it’s of imperative importance that we support state initiatives such as this which have been designed to keep us all safe.

On both sides of law enforcement, with every right comes a responsibility. We’re educating our team regarding their conduct, especially as the roles they are tasked with evolve in line with new guidance. We are abiding by all regulations pertaining to handling staff at work (carrying out daily temperate and attendance records, providing sufficient masks and hand sanitiser supplies, and carrying out best hygiene practices). It remains a guiding principle that we treat you with respect, and at this time we must ask that you afford the guidelines with a similar regard. Please only leave home to go to work, buy goods and obtain services. You can exercise at any time of the day, just not in groups, but visiting family and friends will remain prohibited.


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