The Health Minister has confirmed that there are no plans to change the law to allow people to be vaccinated against their will, after part of a document laying out plans for a new Public Health Law was misinterpreted.
The new law, which is yet to be drawn up, will eventually replace the current 1934 law.
The 87-year-old Loi sur la Santé Public was introduced when diseases like cholera were still rife and does not provide the powers necessary to respond to modern public health emergencies, as “acutely highlighted” by the covid-19 pandemic, which is why the Government said it wanted to update it.
Adaptations to the law will also help the Government to respond to a wider range of threats to the public health beyond infectious diseases, including long-term chronic illnesses, health inequalities in the population, and issues like smoking and obesity.
A consultation document outlining the key principles of a new law was released in June, and contained lines explaining that the new law would “enable action to be taken in situations where infection or contamination presents, or could present, significant harm to human health, and where voluntary cooperation is not forthcoming”, as well as “provide adequate powers that, where necessary and appropriate, enable restrictions or requirements to be imposed in order to protect peoples’ health.”
This led to concerns from some islanders that the new law could lead to significant restrictions on civil liberties.
Some have even suggested on social media that the lines – described by some as ‘Clause 34’, as they feature in the 34th paragraph – refer to a wish for compulsory vaccination.
St. John Constable Andy Jehan, who was among the politicians to have received “dozens of emails”, asked Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf about what the statement meant last week.
I like all States members have received dozens of emails about the proposed new Health Law. I had a concerned parishioner come 2 see me and asked these questions as a result of our chat. Clause 34 is causing most concern Consultation closes on 30 July: https://t.co/fVDzL0dyzc pic.twitter.com/57gczzIdRv— Andy Jehan ???????? (@AndyJehan) July 27, 2021
“That is in the context of a societal measure; mask-wearing is an example,” Deputy Renouf explained.
“We have encouraged the use of masks, strongly recommended it but there comes a time when it may be necessary just now to mandate the wearing of masks. But it will always be on the basis of a legal power, subject to all necessary scrutiny by elected representatives.”
He also explained that he was concerned covid laws had to be voted through so quickly, and would like to ensure that there is a robust, adequately scrutinised law in place for future health emergencies.
However, with some islanders continuing to voice concerns, including at ‘Freedom March’ protests in St. Helier over the weekend, the Health Minister moved to further reassure islanders that compulsory vaccination is not on the agenda this morning.
“A few concerns have been raised during the consultation regarding the law’s role in relation to vaccination,” he said. “The detailed policy intention about such matters is still under development, however, while the law may be used to promote vaccination, we are absolutely clear that the law will not be used as a vehicle to empower the State to physically administer vaccinations without people’s consent.”
There are only a few days left to take part in the first phase of the consultation as it closes on 30 July.
A second phase will follow later this year and will provide detailed proposals for all aspects of the law, including proposals on the management of public health risks.
“Good health is something we all value and while we may be living longer, we want to ensure that as many of those years as possible are spent in good health,” Deputy Renouf added.
Pictured: The Health Minister said the law won't be used to vaccinate people against their will.
“Some of the biggest challenges we now face to our health are long-term preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, which are often a result of factors outside of healthcare. That is why the consultation is seeking islanders’ views on whether the new Public Health Law should play a role in helping to address these issues, alongside the more traditional role of Public Health legislation in managing infectious diseases.
“Additionally, the covid-19 pandemic exposed significant gaps in our legislative powers for responding to major public health risks. This highlighted the need for an appropriate legal framework to be developed that would better enable the Government to respond to public health emergencies.
“The law is important for providing clarity on what action can be taken, in what circumstances, and by whom. Ensuring robust and appropriate safeguards are in place for when such action is taken is central to our approach in improving our ability to manage public health risks.
“The consultation process intends to ensure that we get the right balance between legal powers and civil liberties. As the law is so complex, we have adopted a two-stage approach to the consultation.
“I would like to thank those Islanders who have already provided feedback to the first stage of the consultation. Those Islanders who have not yet taken part in the consultation, should do so before Friday if they would like to have their say, as this is a law that will impact and benefit the whole island.”
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