PENALTIES: NOT WEARING A MASK IN PUBLIC COULD COST YOU R1 500 Unlike traffic fines, these are admissions of guilt that carry weight of criminal conviction.
As of yesterday morning, Johannesburg, Tshwane, West Rand and Ekurhuleni residents know what fines and arrest they face should they be found not wearing a mask and if they find themselves intentionally infecting others with Covid-19 by failing to self-isolate.
The City of Joburg has issued admission of guilt fines in terms of the Disaster Management Act under lockdown Level 3.
Public health lawyer Safura Abdool Karim said these fines were not to be taken lightly. Unlike a traffic fine, the fines imposed due to Covid-19 were admissions of guilt that carried the weight of a criminal conviction.
Transgressors risk getting a criminal record for serious offences, such as for murder and attempted murder, even after fines are paid and matters are settled in court.
“If you took precautions like wearing a mask, you could argue you haven’t intentionally exposed people to the virus. But if people do not isolate, that could be intentional exposure,” said Karim.
“Anyone who carries the risk of exposing someone else would be classified as intentional exposure, even if they are wearing masks.”
Charging someone for assault, attempted murder or murder for intentionally exposing someone else is not new. Government implemented this transgression when the Disaster Management Act was first implemented and revised for Covid-19 in March.
What is new, however, is risking a fine or imprisonment or both for not wearing a mask.
So far, Karim was not aware if anyone had been convicted under the intentional exposure law, only those that had been charged.
As much as the clamping down on Covid-19 transgressions was seen as a sincere effort to enforce responsible public interactions and quell the second wave by any means necessary, Karim said there was a risk of criminalisation undermining public health efforts.
In a paper she wrote in June, Karim said that due to attempted murder charges using existing criminal laws, cases could continue even after the state announced the end of the country’s State of Disaster.
But Karim said attempted murder sentences were often lengthy and would exceed the minimum penalties set out in the Disaster Management Act regulations.
HIV transmission is already criminalised in South Africa and should there be convictions for those deliberately exposing others to the virus, SA would be one of the first to criminalise transmission of Covid-19.
Although the hope was that stringent penalties would scare and motivate all citizens to comply with regulations, Karim said in June that this could have a negative impact on public health efforts to control the outbreak.
There were concerns that like HIV, people could avoid being tested purely to remain ignorant of their status.
Warnings were issued by the World Health Organisation relating to this, with it discouraging the use of “dehumanising terminology” creating the impression that those infected with SarsCoV-2 were somehow less human that those who are not infected.
Karim said the criminalisation of Covid-19 transmission was likely to target the most vulnerable populations – the poor.
She said wealthier homes have access to sanitising and medical expertise, whereas those living in informal settlements often do not have access to basic needs such as running water and social distancing. –